Returning Choreographic Fellow | Aug 14 - 21, 2016 // Nov 25 - Dec 3, 2017 // June 25 - July 7, 2018
Distances Smaller Than This Are Not Confirmed
Inspired by his participation as the first performing artist-in-residence at the SETI Institute (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), David Neumann came to MANCC as a Mellon-funded Returning Choreographic Fellow in a series of three residencies to develop a multi-disciplinary dance/theater piece, Distances Smaller Than This Are Not Confirmed (working title). SETI Institute astronomer Dr. Jill Tarter explains, “the probability of success is difficult to estimate, but if we never search, the chance for success is zero.” Neumann's curiosity about the universe from a scientist’s point of view began here.
Neumann’s central questions for Distances Smaller... are found along the boundary between the explainable and the mysterious. His aim is to unmoor himself from his own comfort zones by placing privilege, masculinity, and race in the context of the cosmic scale, and by relating the challenges of art-making to scientific endeavors. The work allows a complex view of the human experience to unfold, full of all its hubris and wonder. Neumann is attempting to bring the unfathomable scales of time and space into the theater and onto bodies with his mix of dance, science, and theater-making methodologies, creating a work where the borders between language and movement become indistinguishable, and the empirical and poetic become sympathetic agents.
For this work, Neumann aims to explore and stage multiple, concurrent points of view. As his research into both the cosmological and quantum scales has shown him, the more one knows, the less one can be certain of. Neumann finds this paradoxical state difficult, inspiring, and truthful, as it is connected to his own process of emerging awareness within a systemically racist society. For Neumann, change begins by unpacking one’s assumptions and dancing within the mess.
Neumann’s first residency for this project, in August 2016, was a solo period of research, during which he began an ongoing conversation with FSU’s Dr. Jeremiah Murphy, Assistant Professor of Physics, on the intersections between dance and astrophysics.
In his second residency, Neumann brought an intergenerational cast of dancers including Sara Rudner, Professor of Dance at Sarah Lawrence College and former muse of Twyla Tharpe, and Jodi Melnick, a renowned choreographer in her own right. The cast also included Victoria Roberts-Wierzbowski, who worked previously with Neumann at MANCC in 2011 on Restless Eye. The residency culminated with an Open Studio Rehearsal during which Neumann and sound designer Tei Blow experimented with the musical score for the work. Undergraduate School of Dance students in the Music and Choreography class, co-taught by guest artist Millicent Johnnie and Specialized Faculty member Dan Smith, attended the rehearsal and engaged with Neumann in an open dialogue about his process in real time. In attendance at the showing was Dr. Murphy, who was able to provide further insight on the work after having seen it live in rehearsal.
Neumann’s third and final residency at MANCC took place in late June/early July 2018, during which the cast reconvened and further developed the movement, script, and technical elements of the work. Marcella Murray, a theater artist who had recently graduated with her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College where she met David, joined the team as a performer and dramaturg for the work. This residency was transformative for the piece. While David was initially working with at least two separate approaches that, in earlier MANCC residencies, he was trying to combine, it was during the third MANCC residency when David decided to separate the material he had been developing into two distinct works: one a future piece with Sara, Jodi, and Victoria, and one a piece made in equal collaboration with Marcella Murray: Distances Smaller Than This Are Not Confirmed. During this residency, when not rehearsing with David, Tei, Hyung Seok, and Chris Green, Murray conducted extensive research in FSU’s Strozier Library on a variety of subjects including miscegenation, the influence of space travel on human biology, non-Black observations of the Civil Rights movement, creation myths from around the world, terraforming, the American Spiritualist movement, and narratives of enslaved people. The residency concluded with a final work-in-progress showing that featured the lighting, sound, and live video elements put together with the first draft of the show’s script.
This residency was supported by a multi-year, multi-residency initiative from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.