David Neumann and Marcella Murray receive a 2020 Obie Award for the Creation and Performance of Distances Smaller Than This Are Not Confirmed
Six days a week, Sheila Lewandowski, 46, and Brian Rogers, 38, run an adventurous performance space in Long Island City, Queens, called the Chocolate Factory theater. On Sundays they forage for cholesterol and watch “Battlestar Galactica” on Netflix. The couple, who are married, live next door to the theater with their dog, J. R., a pit bull terrier and Labrador retriever mix that they found on the Jackie Robinson Parkway.
For years, this small but vital space for experimental dance and theater, in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens, has been building an under-the-radar Vimeo archive of all that happens there (or most of it). Browse dozens of performances from the past decade — along with helpful “context videos” in which the artists talk about their work — at vimeo.com/chocolatefactory.
It can be a challenge, when writing about the work of other artists, to resist the urge to “solve” for it. I say this as a maker who is deeply invested in all the different tools that can be deployed and the myriad outcomes that become available depending on seemingly small decisions. (Let’s put that light here. Let’s add an extra camera… etc.) Distances Smaller Than This Are Not Confirmed, the new co-created dance/theater piece by David Neumann and Marcella Murray, which is being co-presented by the Chocolate Factory Theater and Abrons Arts Center and runs through January 25th, certainly tempts the maker and solver in me.
“When did you first realize that you were white?” In “Distances Smaller Than This Are Not Confirmed,” David Neumann and Marcella Murray’s quiet, experimental dialogue about race, the question comes up again and again — she, a young black woman, posing it to him, a middle-aged white man who cannot answer it.
If surveillance features centrally in the Republic’s training program, it is recast as an embodied personal project of retuning attention and awareness, rather than as a positivistic tool of disciplinary control. Yet Kosmas does not easily do away with this contradiction; her script’s insistence on tracking and assessing the continuously renewed present, occasionally bracketing it even, flirts with the groundlessness of amnesia, its relinquishing of history to oblivion.
A body is a mass of stories, each body unique in its collection. But that emergent individuality continuously circles back into the multiplicity of its sources. So, Valencia gives her all--or, at least, a fair representation of what all might be. And then she leads an exercise that draws the audience into this multiplicity as well. Now you, too--all of you--have joined her ensemble, joined with her voice, become her history and her future.
Whether rhythmically rearranging items or jerkily ambulating, Ms. Valencia moves with a vivid efficiency: solid, assured. Her dancing seems almost as tangible as the objects around her, as if it, too, could be bundled up and carried.
It’s not always clear how the work’s multifarious images connect, or if they’re meant to. Yet Ms. Rosenblit’s own words seem wise here: “Being lost is a valid location.” When it’s over, the room strewn with green debris, there is a wholeness in the mess.