Jaime Shearn Coan
Prologue: ‘begin again and then begin again again’ —D.A. Powell via Twitter
There is so much work behind the work. So many versions that might have been. I took up this project over two years ago, intending to submit it as a graduate seminar paper. I planned to look at the work of poet D.A. Powell as a reflection of the shifting discourse of AIDS—from Tea (1998), which responds to the loss of the speaker’s friends and the lifeworlds they made together in the early years of the AIDS crisis to Chronic (2009), which places AIDS alongside other managed illnesses, including cancer and climate change. I can’t remember now when Neil Greenberg’s Not-About-AIDS-Dance (1994) entered the project, or even how it first came into my awareness.
I do remember that it was the title of Greenberg’s dance and the prologue of Tea, which begins: ‘This is not a book about AIDS,’ that caught my attention—something about that ‘no’ that was also a ‘yes.’ Dance and poetry were the two things I wrote about (and did) but so far the two had kept to their own discrete circles. I resolved to bring together Powell and Greenberg, who did not know of each other but were both openly HIV+ survivors of the AIDS crisis who made—and continue to make—significant bodies of work, while also serving as teachers and mentors to younger artists and writers. I felt drawn to these two gay male artists from the generation before me—in that queer way in which the quest for guidance overlaps with a more nebulous form of desire.
Despite my enthusiasm, I didn’t finish the paper by the due date. I stuffed all of my research into a white folder. Summer came. I took the folder to Fire Island for a birthday vacation in July. Never opened the folder. From Fire Island, I was heading to California (thanks to a travel grant) to spend three weeks writing poems, muddling through the archives of poet Thom Gunn, and trying to materialize some facts, or at least gossip about the queer nature of my father’s life and his death from AIDS. I planned on bringing the folder—why not? The problem was, I’d left my backpack on the LIRR on the way back from Fire Island. In the backpack was my laptop, toiletries, wallet, books (including a library copy of the out-of-print Tea), journals, and, of course, the folder. No luck at lost and found. I called every day for weeks and then months. It was too overwhelming to even think about recreating the contents of that folder.
In San Francisco I met with D.A. Powell who, aside from being one of my favorite poets, had been my teacher for a weeklong workshop a couple years prior. I told him I was writing an essay about Tea and N-A-A-D. He’d never heard of Neil Greenberg, the downtown New York choreographer who started out dancing with Merce Cunningham in 1979 before forming his own company in 1986. I talked to him about the poems I wanted to write and the frequent rejection of the poems I’d already written; about the ethics of exposing my father’s life; about how to write about difficult things with lightness and humor—which is so much of what I admire in his work. I was nervous talking to him and desperately seeking some sort of assurance. A week later I got an email from him: ‘I hope the rest of your time in SF went smoothly and that it fed your writing and continues to feed it. You will feed others in ways you cannot know, but you have to keep writing. I believe in you.’
I was researching Thom Gunn’s archives at Berkeley for a poetry archival initiative at the Graduate Center called Lost & Found. I was interested in Gunn because he was a bad boy, like my father. A habitué, we’ll say, of hard drugs and sex. I wanted to highlight a version of Gunn different from the canonized AIDS elegist of The Man with Night Sweats; I wanted to see more of the chaps and speed. The more time I spent with his things, the more attached to him I became. But then it was time to seek out my biological father, who, unlike Gunn, was never ‘out’ and—more devastatingly—had left no paper trail behind. In Southern California, I met with my father’s best friend, my half-sister, neighbors, visited his house, the hospital, the hospice, obtained the death certificate with the word AIDS typed loudly into the space for ‘cause of death’, and beyond chasing his ghost, chased a lot of boys around. I wrote a few poems about all that.
In the fall, I returned to school. I bought a new laptop. I tried not to think about my incomplete. Then one day I received a call from the LIRR Lost & Found. They had my backpack, two months later. All that was missing was my laptop and cash. The folder remained intact. It was a minor miracle. Unfortunately, it didn’t result in me writing the paper. I started many times. I’d pick up the Xeroxed copy of Powell’s book, read a few poems. I’d rewatch N-A-A-D. I’d enter due dates in my calendar. But other things always felt more pressing.
A couple years ago, I began writing dance reviews regularly for The Brooklyn Rail and last fall started as the Curatorial Fellow at Danspace Project, a longstanding dance presenting organization in the East Village. Part of the reason I was interested in the position was that one of the projects that I’d be working on was a six-week Platform that activated archives from dance artists who died of AIDS in the 80s and 90s and investigated the gaps created in queer performance lineage by the AIDS crisis. The Platform, co-curated by Ishmael Houston-Jones and Will Rawls, is titled Lost & Found, after a piece made by the late performance artist John Bernd.
In February, the Executive Director of Danspace, Judy Hussie-Taylor mentioned in a meeting that Neil Greenberg was going to be reactivating material from N-A-A-D in an upcoming performance at Danspace, part of Eiko Otake’s Platform: A Body in Places. I have seen Greenberg perform a couple times and have been an audience member alongside him countless times. But I have only seen N-A-A-D on video. I asked Judy to introduce us. Shortly thereafter, I got an email from the other Lost & Found, checking in with me about a timeline for publishing my Thom Gunn project. I’ve heard that finding connections between everything is an early sign of schizophrenia. That may be true, but it’s also what poets do. Perhaps that’s why I’m more interested in placement (choreography) than argument (meaning).
Writing this prologue, it feels a little like I’m waiting for the right time to jump in. I’m scared. I’m procrastinating. Performance Studies scholar Peggy Phelan cautions away from descriptive and representational modes of writing, suggesting, instead, that the writing ‘enact the affective force of the performance event again.’ But how to do it? Especially if I wasn’t there to begin with. The historical representation of the AIDS crisis, its public archive, is fraught terrain. My own position, as a familial and cultural inheritor, is of one who is haunted. Avery Gordon, in Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination, speaks precisely to the dangers, pleasures, and possibilities of writing from within this realm:
To be haunted and to write from that location, to take on the condition of what you study, is not a methodology or a consciousness you can adopt or adapt as a set of rules or an identity; it produces its own insights and blindnesses. Following the ghosts is about making a contact that changes you and refashions the social relations in which you are located. It is about putting life back in where only a vague memory or a bare trace was visible to those who bothered to look. It is sometimes about writing ghost stories, stories that not only repair representational mistakes, but also strive to understand the conditions under which a memory was produced in the first place, toward a countermemory for the future.
There is a reparative instinct that drives this quest—it is for us,now, where we are, perhaps a little too confident in the narratives we’ve absorbed about queer history and the history of AIDS. There are always more stories than we will ever know. This is what pushes me forward, in my particular gait and at my ambling speed. Calling attention to the relation between the seeker and what is sought, Avery Gordon writes: ‘we are part of the story, for better or worse: the ghost must speak to me in some way sometimes similar to, sometimes distinct from how it may be speaking to the others.’ I want something particular out of this encounter, even though I’m not quite sure yet what it is. It has something to do with the gaps between my generation and the previous one. It surely involves nostalgia and yearning, and grieving. At the end of one of the oral history tapes Neil Greenberg recorded with Susan Kraft in 1994, he says, ‘Why do we do what we do? Because we need to do it. Whatever it is. You need to be doing this interview in some weird way.’
While Powell’s work has been an initiating force for this project, this particular essay focuses on two of Greenberg’s dance performances from the mid-90s, paying special attention to how Greenberg negotiates the politics of representation by including (auto)biographical content (including the disclosure of his HIV+ status and the steady progression of deaths of those around him), along with the (non-HIV/AIDS related) life events of the other dancers. Additionally, his practice of transmitting ‘choreographic quotations’ between bodies and across time challenges the then-reigning societal fears of contagion that centered around bodies marked as vehicles for the transmission of HIV: primarily gay men, IV drug users, and Haitians. Greenberg performs an embodied archive that exposes the very material effects (personal and collective) of the AIDS crisis on the making of dance performance, so that, in relation to the work, AIDS functions more as context than content. Bringing his life-events into his dance making, he also reveals his dance as a life-event. In doing so, Greenberg offers a more expansive depiction of the experience of people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.
Haunting the Archives
I start with a video. Not-about-AIDS Dance premiered in 1994, when I was only fourteen. I first watch it at the Performing Arts Library, not realizing that it’s on Neil Greenberg’s Vimeo in full. I rewatch it several times. This video is a haunting; it captures the ghost of a performance. An archive of a single iteration, it performs as a distillation of the whole run. I see what the camera lets me see—which is very often the stage as a field; for the most part, composition in space is privileged over the movements of the individual dancers, their facial expressions, gestural details. The slides projected on the back wall become superimposed text at the top of my screen. My relationship to the performance is made private via the video—I don’t share time and space with the performers and the audience, I don’t function as part of a group, what Jacques Rancière refers to as metexis, or partaking. Not all of my senses are engaged, I am seeing more than feeling the performance. But certainly, there are advantages to this type of viewing as well.
David Gere, citing the dance historian Marcia Siegel’s embrace of and reliance on video documentation in her 1979 book The Shapes of Change: Images of American Dance, writes: ‘These forms of documentation offer a perfect response to the epistemic ephemerality of dance: On tape we can watch a dance again and again, until it has impressed itself firmly on our retinas and memories.’ While I agree that consulting video is crucial, I would hesitate to call video documentation ‘perfect,’ as the very nature of dance is time-based and ephemeral. At the very least, video documentation must be acknowledged as flawed and constructed. Diana Taylor, in her foundational text The Archive and the Repertoire, attempts to undo the idea of the archive as fixed and ‘unmediated.’ ‘The live performance can never be captured or transmitted through the archive,’ she writes. ‘Embodied memory, because it is live, exceeds the archive’s ability to capture it.’ The archive is not comprehensive, nor is it stable—every time I watch a recording, I have a different experience. There is no possibility of repetition when it comes to performance or its reception. Joseph Roach reminds us that ‘no action or sequence of actions may be performed exactly the same way twice; they must be reinvented or recreated at each appearance. In this improvisational behavioral space, memory reveals itself as imagination’. The tension between memory and imagination is at the heart of Neil Greenberg’s Not-About-AIDS-Dance.
Neil Greenberg refers to N-A-A-D, along with the subsequent works, The Disco Project and (the three-part) Part 3: (My Fair Lady), (Judy Garland), and (Luck), as his ‘nonfiction project.’ While he did not set out to make a trilogy (while making N-A-A-D, he was not sure if he would live to make another project), what holds the trilogy together is its (auto)biographical textual component, which does not appear in his later works. Starting with N-A-A-D, Greenberg wrote text and projected it on the wall behind the dancers. The text refers largely to events that happened over the course of the making of the dance, but also extends prior to that period and into the present. Greenberg had already begun to utilize a process of movement composition in which he would improvise in front of a camera and then learn the material verbatim from the videotape. In an article published shortly after N-A-A-D premiered, Greenberg stated: ‘I’m not making work as cerebrally as I used to. I’m improvising now. The metamorphosis of my movement has involved my learning a lot more about gravity, which I think translates well into the issue of mortality. Gravity is a submission to fate; it is something present in our lives, whether we want it to be or not.’
Beginning in Not-About-AIDS-Dance, Greenberg ties the improvisations, using text, to the context in which they were made. For instance, at the beginning of N-A-A-D, a slide reads: This is the first material I made after my brother died. This has the function of fixing time and recording it corporeally. It also shows the temporal connection between the timeline of personal loss and the timeline of making work. Noting that the vocabulary in N-A-A-D emphasizes weight and gravity, Leigh Witchel calls attention to how ‘Phrases seem determined by the natural fall of the body; they flail, stumble, and stagger, walks become falls but then are suddenly balanced, prancing or twisting into renversés.’ The improvisations that Greenberg recorded while he was grieving for his brother and other friends does not represent loss or a struggle with mortality, rather, they function as a direct enactment of it. In his own words: ‘The physical realities of my body were creating what I was doing.’
Alongside this process, a need emerged for Greenberg during this project to include personal information about the performers (particularly but not exclusively himself) that arose during the making of the piece. In that way, he records the extra-dance conditions of the dance being made, linking it both to the individual lives of the performers and to the larger historical and cultural ecosystem that it is made (and viewed) within. Diana Taylor refers to performance as ‘simultaneously “real” and “constructed.”’ While these terms seem to be antithetical, ‘the constructed is recognized as coterminous with the real.’
As stated before, Greenberg considers this a work of ‘nonfiction,’ nothing is ‘made up’ when it comes to the content of the projected text. The music selections that come in and out are sometimes tied to the specific events and people referenced in the text. The performance as a whole, in terms of the dramaturgy, the staging, and the lighting, certainly moves beyond the documentary. While traditionally, in a Western context, a performance is designed to evoke the transcendence of time, so that the temporality of performance is outside of reality, N-A-A-D, through alluding to specific historical moments, slides in and out of that temporality. As the dance critic Leigh Witchel puts it, through the use of the projected text, ‘the work is moved out of the eternal present of classical dance into specific, desperate moments.’ Jack Anderson, writing for The New York Times, also comments on the two types of time functioning in the work, contrasting ‘theatrical time (the choreography) [which] is repeatable…[with the] autobiographical statements in the slide projections.’
What gets tricky though, is the simultaneous nonfiction quality of the performance and the refusal to let the content or the about–ness take precedence over the non-semantic elements of the performance, namely, dance. Not-About-AIDS-Dance. It’s a title that messes with you. ‘I chose a title that might provide an arena within which a viewer’s thoughts might play (or even battle)…. something to involve the viewer’s mind, perhaps providing the false-confidence that something concrete is being represented.’ Those four capitalized letters scream off the page, nearly bursting out of the hyphens that frame them. And yet, Greenberg is asking us to look beyond and around this word and, therefore, to see AIDS as part of the terrain, along with other things. David Román notes that ‘In Greenberg’s trilogy, AIDS is not just a theme; it is a constraint placed on the dance itself. It informs and conditions the process of the dance in its creation, rehearsal, and performance.’ Greenberg says in his 1995 oral history interview, ‘This is not “about” anything, this just is, whatever it is.’ ‘About’ also connotes a system of meaning, of sense-making, and there is not much meaning to be found in the senseless losses that are documented within this piece or around it.
To think through the title a bit more, as well as Greenberg’s motives for including, along with the death of his brother and several friends, the disclosure of his own seropositive status, it is necessary to consider the stigma of the body marked by HIV/AIDS in the years leading up to the show’s premiere in 1994. By including the word ‘AIDS’ in the title, Greenberg is also challenging his own complicity in the silence of not being ‘out’ as HIV+. In interviews and writings, he has called attention to the fact that the project involved the very personal need that motivated the work:
It was important to me to ‘come out’ as being gay and being HIV+ in the text that is part of the work, and to make clear that the deaths of my friends mentioned in the piece were from AIDS. There is political motive there. But more than political motive, there was personal need. I think I included my HIV status in the piece, for example, because I felt the need to break my own denial of it, a much stronger need than any desire I had to politicize the issue.
And yet, this ‘personal’ need is inseparable from the public discourses around HIV/AIDS, as Greenberg himself alludes to in the slide that follows his questioning of his compulsion to disclose, which reads, ‘I don’t know what made this ‘private’ in the first place.’ What makes it private of course, is stigma. Much has been written about the signification of the gay male body as the embodiment of AIDS by pioneering theorists of the AIDS crisis writing in the 1980s, such as Simon Watney and Douglas Crimp. Watney exposes the forces at work that result in ‘the faces and bodies of individuals who clearly disclose the stigmata of their guilt… The principal target of this sadistically punitive gaze is the body of the “homosexual.”’ Crimp in turn, reveals the AIDS crisis to be an ‘“epidemic of stigmatization rooted in homophobia.”’ Paula Triechler’s ‘epidemic of signification’ called attention early on to the power exercised by the language put forth by mainstream media outlets in shaping the public’s understanding of AIDS more than medical professionals. Finally, Tim Dean, pointing out that the ‘S’ in the acronym AIDS stands for syndrome, maintains: ‘therefore AIDS is to be understood not as a specific disease (it is not in itself contagious or communicable) but rather as a condition of the body, an index of the body’s vulnerability to disease, to its surround, and to itself. Since it is impossible to separate out the individual from their society, or the private from the public, it follows that we must understand AIDS as “a condition of the body politic.”’
In placing his already-marked-as-homosexual but also healthy-looking and highly skilled dancer body on a stage and identifying it with AIDS, Greenberg creates a disruption and a contradiction, and also fuels assumptions all at once. Two strategies in particular work to subvert the emphasis on the (gay, HIV+) individual, however, and that is the use of projected text behind the dancing (rather than emitting from his body for example), and the integration of disclosures on the parts of the other dancers (although it should be noted that the perspective is always Greenberg’s, who speaks for them, using third person narration). N-A-A-D is not a solo after all.
Greenberg, early-on in his career a dancer with Merce Cunningham, cites his experience of working with Cunningham (a pioneer of abstract, non-narrative movement dating back to the 1950s) and watching performers that he knew well: ‘I think with Not-About-AIDS-Dance, I was using the self-revelations of the performers as a tactic, thinking that maybe if the audience knew something about the dancers, they’d be able to connect to the dancing, and all the particular kinds of meaningfulness that dance can provide.’ So one function of the text, which may seem counter-intuitive, is to really see the dancing, and not in a representational way.
[When text is read or audible], the text is tied to time and a word with a movement, practically. And you take it literally. And this is more spatial. It actually brings your focus up. It opens the skies, if anything, because of where we’ve placed it. But more importantly it just isn’t tied to time.
With written text, there’s sufficient disconnect from the dancer(s) and stage-picture, in both time and space. The viewer is therefore challenged to hold these two different media together simultaneously—the dancing and the written text—and negotiate the poetics of perhaps not being able to connect them or separate them, but nevertheless to experience them. There are the poetics that interest me, far more than any ‘about.’
This open and spatialized approach to time creates an environment where the ‘about’ and the ‘not-about’ can coexist, where the theater can hold but not absorb the nonfictional worlds that are hailed within its walls, where AIDS doesn’t become sensationalized, but is not kept hidden either.
While the temporality of the performance remains unfixed, the making of the work (usually not visible to an audience) marks and memorializes loss. Another way to consider the inclusion of private information from the other performers is that it emphasizes that the presence of grief and loss, large and small, are universal experiences. And yet, they are particularized. For instance, one slide reads, ‘At this point in making the dance Ellen’s mother died.’ Referring to a point in the making of the dance when one of the dancers—Jo—left to choreograph an opera in Australia, a slide reads, ‘Sydney music critics said Jo’s work on the opera was banal, silly, unnecessary and her dancing weak.’ Greenberg makes sure to remind the audience not to make too easy of a connection between confessional text and dance, however, nor to attach too much meaning to the movement, with slides such as: ‘Christopher wants his dancing to speak for itself.’
Diana Taylor reminds us that ‘The dominance of language and writing has come to stand for meaning itself.’ Greenberg himself is aware that the meaning attributed to language is often antithetical to the types of meaning that can be accessed through dance, including ‘perceptual, sensual, ontological.’ Interestingly, even though Greenberg does include biographical text, two critics read his movement as narrative or representational, when in fact it is often entirely abstract. Jack Anderson, reviewing the trilogy in 1996, selects the title: ‘Writing a Diary with Choreography.’ And Allan Ulrich, writing for the SF Examiner, refers to the work as a ‘kinetic diary.’ Lucy Sexton perhaps comes closest to realizing Greenberg’s intentions when she describes her experience as a spectator as agential and dialectic: ‘what is most striking and truly extraordinary is Neil’s generosity and sense of inclusion with respect to us, the audience… I am, as viewer, left free to construct the intersection between the intimate information I’m being told and the balletically elegant movement being done in front of me.’
Greenberg’s fear of foregrounding the ‘about’ was weighed against the realization that, in previous works he had made, audiences weren’t ‘getting’ the meaning he was intending to express. In the context of the losses he was experiencing due to AIDS, the balance tipped more towards meaning: ‘I think I turned to language to make sure this struggle was explicitly addressed.’ Which returns us to the title. It’s important that AIDS is present. The genesis of the title is actually very relevant here. When Greenberg’s brother Jon, an active member of ACT UP, was in the hospital, someone hung on the wall behind his bed a series of papers that together spelled out the sentence, ‘This-is-not-about-you.’ Greenberg noticed one day that the ‘you’ had dropped off, so that it read, ‘This-is-not-about.’ The removal of the ‘you’ resonates on various levels—a warning against the narcissistic needs of the loved ones, a swift reminder of mortality, or it could also serve as a reminder that the individual, in the context of a larger political struggle, cannot be the primary focus.
In addition to including text that refers to his brother’s death, Greenberg performs a solo, which, unlike the other material, doesn’t come from taped improvisations, but from a close observation of his brother in a coma in his hospital bed as he was dying. As he tells his interviewer in 1995, ‘I don’t think I had any conscious idea of doing that even, but for some reason, when he was in a coma, I remembered the way his arms were. One was internally and one was externally rotated.’
Viewing Notes: Neil enters at 19:44, walks to center, far upstage (close to the audience), gets into posture: eyes closed, raising arms to almost shoulder height, head, upper body slightly bent to right side, arms bent at elbows, one hand turned in, one out. His mouth slightly open, slow breathing, he lifts eyebrows as if trying to open his eyes. Repeats. Right finger points to head. Slide: ‘This is what my brother Jon looked like in his coma.’ He walks backwards, stops. Slide: ‘He was in a coma 2 days before he died of AIDS.’ Repeats sequence, lifts eyebrows with eyes closed. Slide: ‘I’m HIV+.’
Lifts eyebrows, reactivates the finger pointing (it had dropped and suddenly becomes rigid again). He begins to sway his hips, brings arms over to left side, makes a series of turns, very fast movements. His back is facing the audience, one leg extended and both arms flung out. Slide: ‘But this part of the dance isn’t meant to be about me.’ Walks backwards to the front of the stage, turns, returns to Jon pose. Leans over to side, repeats eyebrows. Others walk on.
Greenberg embodies his brother’s posture without first orienting the audience. A brother’s death has been mentioned, but this is the first time proper names have entered: Jon and AIDS. From identifying his brother’s death as AIDS-related, he moves to the disclosure of his HIV+ status. From the still posture of his brother’s coma, he explodes into movement briefly, and then returns. ‘Not about me.’ While Greenberg mentions that he didn’t intend to include his brother’s movement, when it came to making N-A-A-D, in retrospect, he said, ‘I can see the whole dance as an expression of my need to find a context for this moment.’
In this solo, Greenberg conjures his dead brother through his own living body. The audience sees an imagined imprint of what he has seen. Memory, already an ‘“incorporating practice… is sedimented, or amassed, in the body.”’ Greenberg works creatively with this memory in a manner in line with Joseph Roach’s concept of ‘kinesthetic imagination’:
The kinesthetic imagination, however, inhabits the realm of the virtual. Its truth is the truth of simulation, of fantasy, or of daydreams, but its effect on human action may have material consequences of the most tangible and of the widest scope. This faculty, which flourishes in that mental space where imagination and memory converge, is a way of thinking through movements—at once remembered and reinvented—the otherwise unthinkable, just as dance is often said to be a way of expressing the unspeakable.
It is Greenberg’s dance that activates and transforms his memory, and perhaps allows him to more fully participate in addressing his own mortality in the present. Diana Taylor’s discussion of ephemeral archives, or as she terms them, ‘the repertoire,’ is useful to consider: ‘Repertoire, etymologically… to find out.’ The repertoire required presence: people participate in the production and reproduction of knowledge by “being there,” being a part of the transmission.’ Transmission is apt word to employ here. What connects the two bodies is kinship and bloodlines, but also the shared proximity to HIV/AIDS. Addressing the struggle with his own mortality which was inextricable from his grief over his brother’s death, Greenberg writes, ‘Watching Jon die, and die of AIDS, was for me like watching myself die, and die from AIDS.’
While Greenberg’s encounters with loss and his own mortality related to AIDS set him apart from the other members of his cast, the fact that the same (dance) material passes though his body and theirs, suggests another example of transmission (versus the hysterical fear of contagion) that shrinks the distance between his body as marked and theirs as not. If we return to the beginning of the performance, it is clear that Greenberg is calling attention to this process of transmission:
Viewing Notes, opening of N-A-A-D: The sound of footfalls a couple seconds before the backlights come on. Neil and the youngest dancer, Justine (behind) are dancing. First slide: ‘This is the first material I made after my brother died.’ Neil walks off, others enter, all doing the same material, different timing. Fragment of song appears, dissipates. Slide: ‘Jo is doing that same material again.’ Stiff leg, kneeling in a lunge, arm extended. Another song fragment. Quartet with 1 dancer alone. Slide: ‘Ellen is dancing that same material again.’ Front lunge, back leg moves a few times, getting footing.
While it is a common inquiry in dance to consider the relationship between choreographed material and individual bodies, the fact that the other dancers perform the material that has originally emerged from Greenberg’s body and has been linked to Greenberg’s loss feels especially striking. David Román has noted how ‘the work builds meaning through self-referential systems that reflect on the physical process of Greenberg’s HIV status and the artistic process of his choreography.’ Greenberg and the other members of the company ‘perform the kinesthetic memory of their past lived experience,’ both through the already-mentioned learning of set material that originated as improvisation as well as the performance of excerpts from previous pieces that they danced with Greenberg. As the trilogy continues, the material travels and gathers new resonances and contexts.
In a 2006 interview, Greenberg reflects back on the loss of his brother as well as many friends:
it was ‘the’ life-changing event, one of the big ones, bringing mortality as something close to me, something real, for the first time. That is what went into the making of the piece, and as we made the piece, more friends died. It just happened that way. That was a year in my life when nine people died —some of them really close to me, some of them people from the support group.
And back in 1995, he said, ‘It’s in N-A-A-D, my feelings about my mortality, having to grieve others, and grieve it from a special place of knowing that this could be my end.’ One of the other ways that Greenberg specifically addresses the AIDS crisis in this piece is in the naming of nine people he knew who died while the dance was being made. Each death is marked according to where it happened in relation to the making of the piece. I notice that after each death is announced, all the dancers clear off of the stage and stand on the sides briefly before returning and beginning to dance again (Greenberg is already off the stage). Another death is announced and they evacuate once more, and then return. Throughout the piece, solos turn into quartets, which split into two duets, dancers drop out, occasionally everyone enters into unison. There are no wings, the dancers always gravitate back to the sides of the stage and stand, waiting. In a 1995 article for POZ Magazine, Greenberg reflects:
The rhythms I came up with, the spatial arrangements that took shape seem to reflect my experience. I can point to certain things in the dance now and see how they deaccumulate. They’re about loss. Instead of structures accumulating, they’d disintegrate over and over. That seems to be the pattern I came up with quite unconsciously.’’
There is no sense of closure at the end of the piece. As Leigh Witchel remarks, ‘When it seems as if this chilling litany might repeat ad infinitum… there is a blackout and the dance is over.’ The ending speaks to the ongoing-ness of AIDS-related deaths and seems to allude to an earlier slide, which is at once a pointed reference to Greenberg’s unnaturally finite experience of time as well as to the material conditions of making of a performance. ‘There is more I wanted to do with this dance, but there wasn’t time.’
In some ways, N-A-A-D is very much linked autobiographically to Greenberg, charting his ‘personal’ losses. But the inclusion of the biographical information and physical presence of the other performers, along with the ‘choreographic quotations’ that Greenberg includes, depict a subject that is enmeshed with others, and perhaps at the service of those who have passed. Greenberg and his cast ‘understand that the dancing body is not a construct (either mental or physical) unto itself but rather is constituted in relation to its environment—to time and space, and to other bodies in time and space, and to the dustballs of life’s dramas that cling to every little movement.’ In her book Mourning Sex, Peggy Phelan poses the question, ‘What kind of body remains after death?’ In what forms do the dead remain with the living? What changes occur in the surviving body after so many deaths?
The Disco Project followed N-A-A-D at P.S.122 in 1995. It became clear that the pieces were linked when Greenberg danced a solo from N-A-A-D at the beginning of the show. Whereas the performers in N-A-A-D wore white shorts and tanks, in TDP, they wear costumes of the same cut, but in bright pink satin. Choreographically, there is a mixture of disco vocabulary, archival material from N-A-A-D, and new material. ‘The last material I made before my brother died,’ from N-A-A-D appears again: the tucking and untucking of shorts, side planks that end with a flung-out arm skyward, a mashing together of the lips, wide eyes. Witchel captures the various echoes in the work when he writes: ‘The particular vocabulary of The Disco Project blends the falls and staggering walks of the earlier dance with the social dance of the late 1970s to form a fugue on the disco era.’
In N-A-A-D, fragments of songs appear and disappeared almost immediately. But now, along with some fragments, whole songs are integrated, and they are all disco hits. In one section, Christopher repeats a sequence that he has danced earlier, which reads as Greenberg’s standard choreography, and then all of a sudden, Sylvester’s voice blares through the speakers: ‘Do Ya Wanna Funk?’ Without any change in choreography, Christopher is now disco dancing. The song plays through in its entirety, Christopher hamming it up for the audience, looking like he’s enjoying himself. Now it is seventeen minutes into TDP, and Sylvester is still playing while the performers dance in unison in a line and the narrative content of N-A-A-D gets recapped, with the help of a series of slides that begin with ‘In our last dance…’
A summary ensues: Jo went to Australia and came back, Ellen’s mother died, Neil’s brother and eight friends died of AIDS (note the brutal straightforwardness). Then we get to the temporality of the making of the current piece. ‘This is the section we were working on when we took a break for the summer.’ And now the text continues—in the same mode of N-A-A-D—to share the narrative details of the performers’ lives during the making of this current piece. It is explained that Jo is no longer with them, that she is having a baby. ‘The nerve.’ This text is a quotation from N-A-A-D, used in a wholly different context (previously in defense of Jo, and now—playfully—pitted against her). Paige, the new dancer is introduced. Ellen’s father has died (her mother’s death was announced in N-A-A-D).
Frank Maya has died. The text addressing this death has a different tone than the factual reporting of N-A-A-D, bringing in more context and also more emotion. Notably, Maya is also not a relative or friend but an ex-partner. ‘We had a rough breakup. I love him a lot. I hope he knows that.’ In this last phrase, Greenberg almost seems to be hoping that Maya is listening. There is a sense of unresolved tension that is complicating his grief. When a slide reads, ‘I really didn’t want to have to put his death into this dance,’ we see how the conditions Greenberg has set for his nonfiction commentary are painfully adhered to. In addition, the boundary between life and performance is no longer distinguishable—the conditions that affect the making of the performance are inextricable from the performance. Choreographers often talk about ‘choices’ when they are shaping a dance. And while Greenberg (along with his collaborators) is certainly making choices, he is also at the mercy of whatever happens in the time span of the performance. In his oral history interview, Greenberg says, ‘By putting the elements of what happened while it was happening into the piece, that’s a form of chance determination I’ve come to realize.’ Chance determination is often associated with objective phenomena such as mathematics or the I Ching, as in the case with Cunningham and Cage. The chance determination that Greenberg allows into his work is the very random and chaotic happenstance of life. All of this happens while Sylvester sings.
Towards the end of The Disco Project, Greenberg makes another personal disclosure, although this time, it is the favorable news that he is asymptomatic. It’s as if the mention of Maya’s death from AIDS compels him to update audience on his own status. He tells us he’s asked Jo to be his friend ‘forever’ and there seems to be a lot hanging on that word. And then: ‘We set out to have some fun with this dance. By hook or by crook. We had some.’ Certainly camp and disco dancing provide necessary levity in the midst of tragedy. The penultimate slide feels a little harder to decipher: ‘Why can’t we all just love each other?’ It offers the only moment of direct sentimentality, unless Greenberg is actually being sarcastic or arch here, making fun of himself. Perhaps it is a statement made in light of Maya’s death. Or a plea for empathy in the face of homophobia and AIDS stigma. Whatever and however it signifies, this statement addresses mortality.
‘Time for Neil’s big solo.’ This slide is met with titters from the audience. A song is already playing when Greenberg enters the empty, indigo-lit stage: Jimmy Somerville’s cover of ‘Never Can Say Goodbye.’ He enters smiling, striding across the stage—there is something very kid-like about his affect—a combination of bashfulness and precociousness. It’s a very queer demonstration, his body moving to the beat of the music (and then falling out of it), his wrists and hands fluttering. A spotlight follows him momentarily. His expression changes often—sometimes he smiles winningly at the audience; at other moments effort appears in the form of a grimace, which also reads as emotional pain. He looks behind him. He seems to get tired at certain moments, but he bounces back. Often it looks like he is going to fall, as if he’s being yanked around. He extends his chest forward in space, his arms out and head thrown back. There are moments of pausing, hovering. At one point he holds up his arms in the air, his fists turned in, legs firmly planted, a haunted or intimidating expression on his face. He slows down and extends an arm forward, lunging. He travels all over the stage, almost always turning, tipping towards the floor, splayed arms, prancing. Towards the end he stands with his head back, his arms bent in front of him, crossed at the forearm, wrists facing up, in what looks like a posture of supplication, and then slowly curves forward into a kind of bow. He continues to dance for about a minute after the song has ended.
‘Never Can Say Goodbye’—the song choice works semantically and affectively on several levels. It marks the end of the show, and the reluctance for that closure to take place. It contains a playful, self-referential nod to the dancer’s need for attention, also alluded to in the slide: ‘Time for Neil’s big solo.’ But it also refers, of course, to the losses Greenberg has charted in these pieces, foremost among them, losses due to the AIDS crisis. It may even speak to Greenberg’s own struggle with his mortality. The song is upbeat; its lyrics mix heartbreak with survival and sweat, biding the listener to dance the sadness away. The song functions as a serenade to a time that has passed, in its reference to disco’s heyday in the late 70s and its attendant sexual culture, but, seeing as this cover came out in 1987, it also functions as a marker of a time in which many were already dying.
But the song alone is not what moves me. It is Greenberg, dancing alone on an empty stage, in his specific way, to this song. Witchel writes: ‘The solo seems entirely improvisatory. It has the furious, experimental sense of being made up on the spot. Greenberg is his own disco. He smiles broadly, he is enjoying himself immensely … he wins you over through the sheer fantasy of it.’ Jack Anderson has a more sober take: ‘Mr. Greenberg began to race about wildly. His excitement had a touch of desperation. But because he was so determined to keep moving, this solo could be seen as an act of defiance in the face of adversity.’ While this interpretation is perhaps a little too universal, I agree that Greenberg’s exertion exhibits more difficult emotions and effort alongside the campy winsomeness that Witchel describes. Ann Daly gives the most nuanced and the most subjectively involved account. After heaping praise: ‘Greenberg’s solos are the showstoppers…. His is an ecstatic body, outside itself, reaching beyond its own mortality,’ she asks, ‘‘Why can’t all dancers make us feel as good as Neil Greenberg?’…. ‘It wasn’t that Greenberg gave us a ‘feel good’ evening,’ she reflects, ‘although he certainly did choose music with immediate metakinetic power. On the contrary, I was stricken during his “Never Can Say Goodbye” solo. Loss infused the entire concert.’ ‘Feeling good’ is not quite the word for the intense experience that Greenberg’s solo, and yet ‘feeling bad’ certainly doesn’t fit either. Is it the elation that is only possible after a terrible loss? Is it catharsis? For Peggy Phelan, ‘Queers are queer because we recognize that we have survived our own deaths.’ Ecstatic dance in a dying landscape, perhaps this is what Greenberg gives us.
Greenberg’s solitary figure in all that space, dancing to a song that evokes dance floors crowded with sweaty bodies. Greenberg, in his tracking through the space, might be alluding to the constant flow of changing partners, the circulating patterns of desire. In her article, ‘Discophobia,’ Gillian Frank identifies discos as important cultural sites for queer communities: ‘Not simply apolitical or commercial, discos… served as sites of political organizing, fund-raising, and celebration. Disco clubs and music made the growth of gay liberation concrete.’
When I asked Greenberg about choosing the (gay and politically engaged) Jimmy Somerville version of ‘Never Can Say Goodbye,’ he said that he didn’t choose any of the music in TDP intentionally to make any sort of commentary. When he mentioned Sharon Redd, another artist on his soundtrack, he recalled that she died of AIDS. The song he chose to include, ‘In the Name of Love’ was released in 1982. In TDP, he mentions that the song was popular when he broke up with ‘the married man.’ The text then reads: ‘Years ago. Before AIDS.’ AIDS appears as a temporal dividing line. (Eerily, Redd was already dead during these performances—she died in 1992. Sylvester died in 1998). RuPaul’s ‘Work (Supermodel)’ from 1993 plays while a slide reads: ‘This is the song that was big the summer my brother died.’ The songs are additional chance elements that appear, synced with the events that are tied to them in Greenberg’s personal history.
The individual losses, like Frank Maya, that Greenberg cites are connected to the disappearance of the larger social life of queers—associated with the social spaces of the discos, clubs, bars, and parties—interrupted by the AIDS crisis. Playing the same songs that have saturated these spaces and the bodies within them reactivates something—transcends time, invades bodies. Here we see the distinction between public and private crumble—the loss of a way of being, of a time and place of being, cannot be separated by the personal losses experienced individually. Diana Taylor reminds us that performance is not just an event but an epistemology, shared by performers and audience members. Greenberg’s body transmits knowledge through dancing, and, in turn, the dancing enables the ‘awareness of the political history carried by the body.’ In Greenberg’s solo, he dances among ghosts, he dances as a ghost, and he dances for the ghosts.
But his solo is not the final sequence of TDP. The others enter the silent stage one at a time, all repeating the same spinning phrase, as Greenberg leaves, coming in and out of various formations until they settle in a line at the back of the stage, facing the back wall. Greenberg returns, joins them, where they execute disco steps in unison, throwing their hips and arms side to side, each of them with their own little flair, the thumps of their heels keeping regular time. The lights fade down until they are silhouettes, anonymous dancing bodies. They freeze mid-motion. And then, blackout—a kind of reverse flash. An afterimage lingers, along with the impression that the disco dancers are still doing their thing, somewhere else.
 Not-About-AIDS-Dance, 1994. Choreography and Text: Neil Greenberg. Lighting Design: Michael Stiller. Music fragments compiled and arranged by: Zeena Parkins. Projections design by: John Masterson. Projectionist: Melissa Arra. Performed by: Ellen Barnaby, Christopher Batenhorst, Neil Greenberg, Justine Lynch, Jo McKendry. Recorded December 15, 1994 at The Kitchen, NYC by High Risk Productions, Steve Brown, Director. Running Time: 50 minutes.
 Kraft, Susan. ‘Interview with Neil Greenberg [sound recording]’, Jerome Robbins Dance Collection of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. 7 sound cassettes (9 hr., 30 min.) + 1 transcript (164 leaves), 1995, 150.
 Many of Greenberg’s works are archived, along with a six-hour oral history, at the NYPL Jerome Robbins Dance Division as part of the AIDS Oral History Project, a project initiated by Lesley Farlow at the Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Farlow’s predecessor, Susan Kraft, conducted Greenberg’s interviews.
 The Disco Project, 1995. Choreography and Text: Neil Greenberg. Lighting Design: Michael Stiller. Musical Advisor: Zeena Parkins. Costumes: Suzanne Gallo. Performed by: Ellen Barnaby, Christopher Batenhorst, Neil Greenberg, Justine Lynch, Paige Martin. Commissioned by P.S. 122 with funds from the Joyce Mertz-Gilmore Foundation. Running Time: 44 minutes. Recorded by Sathya Production Services at the Joyce Theater, January 17, 1997.
 Román, David. ‘Not-about-AIDS’, in Performance in America: Contemporary U.S. Culture and the Performing Arts (Durham: Duke UP, 2005), 74.
Román’s first book, Acts of Intervention, focused on performance pertaining to HIV/AIDS but did not include any dance (or mention of Greenberg). His second book looks at contemporary performance in the US and does include dance in one chapter where he looks at Greenberg’s work alongside the work of choreographer Bill. T. Jones. His primary focus here, although he looks at N-A-A-D and TDP, is to address the challenges of addressing AIDS in performance in what some referred to as a ‘post-AIDS’ era—which correlated to the development of protease inhibitors in 1996. Because the trilogy spans that period of increasing life-chances but begins before it, that contextualization feels only somewhat appropriate to me.
 The issue of the political nature of N-A-A-D is taken up by reviewer Allan Ulrich who wonders about the small audience that Greenberg drew in San Francisco: ‘could this work be too subtle for San Francisco?’ Ulrich, Allan. ‘A Dance That’s Not “Not-About AIDS”’, San Francisco Examiner, October 18, 1996.
See also: Gere’s How to Make Dances in an Epidemic, where Gere expands the concept of choreography to include activist events. One of the examples he chooses is the ACT UP political funeral for Greenberg’s brother, Jon Greenberg, which he ‘reads’ as a performance. Although he cites Neil’s role in the funeral, includes his quotes, and conducts personal correspondence with him, the focus is squarely on the event. He mentions only in passing that Neil is ‘an openly HIV-positive choreographer with highly developed skills in the art of bodily action.’ (161), later describing him as ‘a prominent participant in his activist brother’s political funeral.’ It feels like a wasted opportunity to place Neil’s role here next to his choreographic work, which explicitly refers to his brother, textually and corporeally. Thinking back to Gere’s (somewhat baffling) criteria for what makes an ‘AIDS dance’ (1. ‘must depict gayness,’ 2. ‘the depiction of male-male eros—denotatively or connotatively—of homosexual desire’ and 3. ‘must depict some form of mourning’ (13)), I wonder if Neil was written off because of the lack of male-male eros in his work. N-A-A-D mentions friends who died, but not lovers. But then again, N-A-A-D is one of the most widely known dances that refers to AIDS, albeit in the negative. So why doesn’t Gere mention it? Another possibility is that Gere’s criteria seem to favor narrative or representational choreography.
A counterpoint to Gere can be found in Mark Franko’s chapter ‘Dance and the Political: States of Exception’: ‘it is justifiable and necessary to speak of dance as political in circumstances that are conjunctural; that is, in circumstances where forms of movement and socio-political life take shape simultaneously if apparently independently. Dance frequently attains heightened cultural visibility at such moments’ (12). Certainly the AIDS crisis is one of these circumstances, and the date markers and nonfictional content serve to explicitly mark its relationship to sociopolitical life. Further, Franko reminds us that ‘politics are not located directly “in” dance, but the way dance manages to occupy (cultural) space’ (13). While N-A-A-D takes place in a theater, it also circulates in discourse.
 This dynamic can also be carried over into the relationship between homophobia and disco: ‘in April 1979 a Rolling Stone article described the Village People as “the face of disco.”’ Frank, 2007, 290.
 ‘The name AIDS in part constructs the disease and helps make it intelligible. We cannot therefore look “through” language to determine what AIDS “really” is. Rather, we must explore the site where such determinations really occur and intervene at the point where meaning is created: in language.’ Treichler, Paula A. ‘AIDS, Homophobia, and Biomedical Discourse: An Epidemic of Signification’, in Crimp, Douglas (ed.). AIDS: Cultural Analysis, Cultural Activism (Boston: October Books/MIT press, 1987), 31.
 Taylor, 2007, 20: The Repertoire ‘enacts embodied memory: performances, gestures, orality, movement, dance, singing—in short, all those acts usually thought of as ephemeral, nonreproducible knowledge.’
 Greenberg, Neil and Miguel Gutierrez. ‘Neil Greenberg and Miguel Gutierrez in conversation, Parts 1 and 2’, critical correspondence, May 2006. http://www.movementresearch.org/criticalcorrespondence/blog/?p=534.
 Kaplan, Larry. ‘My Brother, My Self: Choreographer Neil Greenberg touches nerve with AIDS work’, POZ Magazine, May 12, 1995. https://www.poz.com/article/Neil-Greenberg-HIV-20782-7528.
 Witchel, Leigh, 1998, 65. Witchel describes the reception of Christopher’s solo when it was performed in a different setting/context: ‘when Disco was seen in Central Park Summerstage in July 1996, the audience, which had been apprehensive up until that point, began to groove, even to whistle when the music came on, and breathed a sign of relief. It was a crowd too young to have danced to the music when it first came out, and also too young to remember that Sylvester was one of the first recording artists to die of AIDS.’
 Jimmy Somerville’s 1987 cover of Gloria Gaynor’s disco version of the same title. Jimmy Somerville was a member of the bands Bronski Beat and The Communards, an out gay performer involved in ACT UP London, and is known for his falsetto singing voice.
 Daly is referring to John Martin’s concept, identified in his 1993 text The Modern Dance, as a ‘psychic accompaniment’ to movement (kinesis). Martin, John. The Modern Dance, Fifth Printing (Brooklyn: Dance Horizons, Inc., 1972), 13.
Jaime Shearn Coan lives in Brooklyn, New York. He is a PhD candidate in English at The Graduate Center, CUNY and serves as the 2015-2016 Curatorial Fellow at Danspace Project. Recent and forthcoming critical writing can be found in The Brooklyn Rail, Jacket2, and Women + Performance: a journal of feminist theory. His poetry chapbook, Turn it Over, was published by Argos Books in 2015.