I Understand Everything Better
I UNDERSTAND EVERYTHING BETTER
by David Neumann
with text by Sibyl Kempson
and photos by Paula Court
David Neumann/Advanced Beginner Group’s I Understand Everything Better is a “deeply felt and deeply moving” (New York Times) performance piece, a multi-disciplinary, dance-based work that explores the impulse to report on calamity, the shimmer of attention to realms unseen, and the evidence of the body as possessing a will to let go of living.
Emerging from a year in which David Neumann lost both his mother and father, I Understand Everything Better documents a process of dying, and how the altered attentiveness of the dying and those who care for them can invite a complex layering of now and then, here and there, living room and mountain road. The text draws on Neumann’s accounts of his father’s final days as well as Noh theater, the Kyogen play Boshibari, Shakespeare’s King Lear, transcripts of live weather reporting (mostly during hurricanes), and interviews with end-of-life caregivers, doctors, and meteorologists.
Advanced Beginner Group’s 2015 production—winner of two Bessie awards for Outstanding Production and Outstanding Sound Design—includes text by David Neumann and Sibyl Kempson. Edited and designed by Karinne Keithley Syers with photography by Maria Baranova, this volume is an elegant, richly layered record of a rigorously collaged, collaborative performance that was itself a record of a storm.
“I Understand Everything Better takes choreographer Neumann’s already-wonderful touch for movement and the wry phrase and cuts it into diamonds… Neumann has just entered a triumphant next phase of his work… here he makes something for his company, Advanced Beginner Group, that feels genuinely important, both to the form and to minds of those who see it.”
– Time Out New York
“By now the line on Mr. Neumann is well established: he is the smart joker of dance. What’s not said as often is how deeply felt and deeply moving his work can be.”
– New York Times
“Both in the text, written in collaboration with the fine playwright Sibyl Kempson, and through a richly collaged sampler of movement styles that runs from modern American dance to classical Japanese theater, Neumann twins his winningly off-kilter humor with heavier forces.”
– Claudia La Rocco in Artforum
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS:
David Neumann has been a featured dancer in the works of Susan Marshall, Jane Comfort, Sally Silvers, Irene Hultman, Cathy Weiss, Big Dance Theater, and the late club legend Willi Ninja. He was a member of Doug Varone and Dancers, and an eight-year original member and collaborator with Doug Elkins Company, with whom he toured nationally and internationally. He continues to perform and choreograph for theater, opera and film working with such directors as: Hal Hartley, Laurie Anderson, Robert Woodruff, Lee Breuer, Peter Sellars, JoAnn Akalaitis, Chris Bayes, Mark Wing-Davey, Daniel Sullivan, Les Waters and Molly Smith. Recent and upcoming projects include: creature movement on 'I Am Legend' with Will Smith, performing in 'Beckett Shorts' with Mikhail Baryshnikov at New York Theater Workshop and choreographing The Bacchae at the Public Theater As artistic director of advanced beginner group, Neumann's work as been presented in New York at PS 122, Dance Theater Workshop, New York Live Arts, Central Park SummerStage (where he collaborated with John Giorno), Celebrate Brooklyn and Symphony Space (where he collaborated with Laurie Anderson) and The Whitney. His work has also been presented at the Walker Art Center and MASS MoCA. He's currently a professor of Theater at Sarah Lawrence College and a guest lecturer at both Barnard College and The Graduate Acting Program at Yale University.
Advanced Beginner Group has created three evening length pieces performed in New York at The Kitchen, New York Live Arts, the Chocolate Factory and Abrons Arts Center, and on tour at The Walker Arts Center, MASS MoCA, MCA at Chapel Hill, and Alverno College, to name a few. ABG has been awarded several grants and awards, including three NY Dance and Performance “Bessie” awards. Advanced Beginner Group has embarked on another evolutionary shift, in a co-collaboration with theater artist, Marcella Murray on their new piece, ‘Distances Smaller Than This Are Not Confirmed’ which premiered at Abrons Arts Center in January, 2020. David Neumann/Advanced Beginner Group embarks on each piece through an organic process begun from scratch, bringing to word, action, and proximity a delighted embrace of our contradictory lives. Contradiction is best felt through humor and it is with a strategic use of humor that the work confronts our darker impulses and actions. ABG searches for antidotes to the absolutes that separate us, and so create these works as an irrational response to our perceived place in the universe. In each work, Neumann attempts to uncover a distinct and complex view of the human experience. He embraces contradiction and juxtaposition as a means toward an active engagement with the audience where performer and observer alike are given the potential to find themselves in a more alert state, more open to the subtleties of their day-to-day experience. To even approach this desired complexity, the work is necessarily multi-disciplinary, as Neumann aims the various approaches and disciplines toward one another, and through their collisions, bend the habitual gestures around new shapes. As a dance/theater maker, Neumann focuses his efforts on the borders of the intellectual and the phenomenological, the representational and the abstract, and the personal and the cosmological with the intention to make blurry our desire to live inside distinct categories, binaries, and absolutes. David Neumann and Advanced Beginner Group desire an awakened state, full of surprise, wonder, and humor without ignoring our pain, ennui, and existential longings.