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The Disco Project19955 dancers44 min

The Disco Project followed Not-About-AIDS-Dance (1994) in the progression of my work.  

I didn’t initially intend to include any projected text in this new work. Then during a break in rehearsals my ex-lover Frank Maya died of AIDS, and I couldn’t find a way forward in the dance without explicitly including that information via the same kind of projected, non-fiction text that I had used in Not-About-AIDS-Dance.

But my initial impulse leading to The Disco Project started with the music/dance relationship. This was to be my first work in which we danced to music. Previously I had insisted that sound cues had to be dance-driven, i.e. cued by the dancers and overlaid on the dancing. We always rehearsed without music. Similarly, I had never used any music when I videotaped my source movement improvisations, always working in silence. 

The first time I used any music for source improvisations was for Not-About-AIDS-Dance. Just two weeks after my brother Jon died from AIDS, I had to go to Taiwan for a teaching job. I was still very much in mourning, and impulsively decided to improvise to music that I connected to the time I spent with Jon as one of his caretakers: Ru Paul’s Supermodel (You Better Work) and House of Love, which had recently come out and were the songs of that summer. But when later it came time to learn movement from the video, I silenced the audio when working on movement originally improvised to music, maintaining my commitment to “felt timing” rather than musical timing (like dancing to a beat). 

So the big step I took with The Disco Project was to simply keep the sound on when learning movement originally improvised to recorded tracks, and creating choreography in which we also danced to the beat. Who knew? - it can be great fun dancing to the beat.

Thinking back now I see multiple motivations contributing to my use of disco for this first of my works to music. I liked that disco music was decidedly lowbrow. I don’t know that I had seen any concert dance set to disco back in 1995. Also, and rather obviously, I connected disco to gay life, both during the post-Stonewall but pre-AIDS era and through the horrendous early years of the pandemic, and to my gay life (I came to NYC in 1976). Disco dancing in bars and clubs was an important outlet for me during those years, and about the only dancing I did that I hadn’t ever trained for (save a couple of informal hustle lessons from friendsback in the day). So there was also something about the impulse to dance, and the function of dance, in my use of disco. 

Some necessary context: The first combination therapy including a protease inhibitor, a development that completely changed the HIV/AIDS treatment landscape, had only just been approved for study in June 1995, and approved by the FDA on December 6, 1995, the same month that The Disco Project premiered. So we were working in what was still a very dark time. I wrote, “Using the music now can seem like fiddling while Rome is burning, but I need to learn how to exist in this age of AIDS and still have a life, a life with some fun in it.” 

A detail: I embedded a direct reference to Not-About-AIDS-Dance in the quartet that occurs just before the first appearance of any music in The Disco Project (which erupts a full fifteen minutes into the work). The movement in that quartet was constructed entirely from my solo in Not-About-AIDS-Dance, at the beginning of which the text “This is the last material I made before my brother died” was projected. (The movement did, in fact, come from my last videotaped improvisations before Jon died, and I first performed the solo, at Dixon Place, only a month before his death.) I preceded performances of The Disco Project by dancing that solo from Not-About-AIDS-Dance, costumed in the original white shorts and tank top, and with that one line projected of text. My hope was that viewers would recognize in The Disco Project at least some of the movement from the Not-About-AIDS-Dance solo, reworked in a quartet structure. I think it was important to me that Not-About-AIDS-Dance be woven into the development of The Disco Project. Teaching that solo to the other dancers, which occurred very early in our rehearsal process, felt somehow necessary.

About the visual design: I knew that I wanted to use the same costume shape of basic shorts and tank tops - like a phys ed uniform - as we had worn for Not-About-AIDS-Dance, and so provide another connection to that work. It was Suzanne Gallo who found the vibrant pink lycra fabric. Michael Stiller had a field day lighting that material, playing up the blue undertones. Michael’s lighting design provided yet another connection to Not-About-AIDS-Dance, which utilized a follow-spot as a way to illuminate a solo dancer on an otherwise darkened stage. The Disco Project employed not one, but two follow-spots.


Premiered at Performance Space 122, December 14-17, 1995.


Choreography and Text: Neil Greenberg
Performed by: Ellen Barnaby, Christopher Batenhorst, Neil Greenberg, Justine Lynch, Paige Martin
Music: Sylvester &  Patrick Cowley, Do Ya Wanna Funk?; RuPaul, Jimmy Harry & Larry Tee, Supermodel (You Better Work), Couture Mix, performed by RuPaul; Ricky Williams & Sharon Redd, In the Name of Love, performed by Sharon Redd; Bernard Edwards & Nile Rogers, We Are Family, Sure is Pure Remix, performed by Sister Sledge; Clifton Davis, Never Can Say Goodbye, performed by Jimmy Somerville & the Communards.

Musical Advisor:  Zeena Parkins
Lighting: Michael Stiller
Costume Construction: Suzanne Gallo
Stage manager: Roderick Gallo
Projections Design: John Masterson
Stage Manager: Leo Janks

Videotaped by the Dance Collection of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts for preservation in the Jerome Robbins Archives of the Recorded Moving Image
Videography by Sathya Production Services, Molly McBride, Director, at The Joyce Theater, January 17, 1997.


Commissioned by P.S. 122 with funds from the Joyce Mertz-Gilmore Foundation
New York State Council on the Arts
National Endowment for the Arts


Gia Kourlas, Time Out/New York, 1995

Jack Anderson, The New York Times, 1995

Jack Anderson, The New York Times, 1996

Deborah Jowitt, Village Voice, 1996
Rick Whitaker, Ballet Review, 1996
Don Daniels, Ballet Review, 1996
Ann Daly, Dance Theatre Journal, 1997
Jennifer Dunning, The New York Times, 1997

Additional Links
Text for The Disco Project
Excerpts from The Disco Project

Excerpt of improvised material used in The Disco Project 

Jaime Shearn Coan, Drain Magazine, 2015

L-R: Neil Greenberg, Justine Lyunch, Christopher Batenhorst, Paige Martin
© Tom Brazil, 1997

L-R: Justine Lynch, Ellen Barnaby (front), Paige Martin, Christopher Batenhorst
© Donna Ann McAdams, 1995

Neil Greenberg
© Donna Ann McAdams, 1995

L-R: Ellen Barnaby, Justine Lynch, Neil Greenberg, Paige Martin, Christopher Batenhorst
© Paula Court, 1995

L-R: Christopher Batenhorst, Justine Lynch, Neil Greenberg
© Anja Hitzenberger, 1997

Excerpt of improvised material used in The Disco Project