Saturday, February 8, 2014

Crystalline Structure and Lush Romanticism

Tanowitz's Heaven on One's Head. Photo: Yi-Chun Wu
This week brought three engaging dance premieres. Two were by Pam Tanowitz in her debut at the Joyce; the other by Liam Scarlett for NYCB. Passagen, by Tanowitz, is a short work for Maggie Cloud and Melissa Toogood that references numerous female duets that have popped up throughout Tanowitz's long-form oeuvre. The title is taken from the musical composition by John Zorn, played by violinist Pauline Kim Harris, who triangulates between three onstage music stands, and off of whom the dancers play. The duo often performs in tandem, underscoring not only their precision and awareness, but a double articulation of the fascinating shapes. Their elegant slate and brocade tunics are designed by Reid Bartelme. 

Tanowitz fully inhabits every venue her company performs at, often transforming it, and this held true for the Joyce. Heaven on One's Head was danced by nine, clad in red velvet shorts and tops (by Bartelme) that match the Joyce's proscenium curtain, which at first was raised halfway. The upstage brick wall of the Joyce's stage was exposed, its ruggedness and rectangular floating niche lit boldly by Davison Scandrett, who flooded the stage with sun-strong light and splashes of red. The four members of the FLUX Quartet sit in the pit playing Colin Noncarrow's score, from strident to pensive.
Melissa Toogood and Maggie Cloud in Tanowitz's Passagen. Photo: Yi-Chun Wu

Tanowitz's dancers have performed in pointe shoes in the past; here, they are barefoot, the better to firmly feel the floor and press against it. (Two members of her company—Toogood and Dylan Crossman—are Cunningham alum, and if you saw Merce's company, you've seen the world's strongest human feet, like tree roots). Ballet is the basic language, but it's accented with the angular modernism of Cunningham, as well as quirks that are often the result of recombinants, like a game of Exquisite Corpse, but with dance—a contracted torso above diamond-shaped legs, an oddly canted head, arms in low fifth behind the body rather than in front. 

We see bird-like imagery in the upright carriages, darting movements, and still poses with forced-arch feet or extended limbs. Every position is crisp and intentional, and the overall exactitude amplifies the larger, space-eating phrases to feel that much more dramatic. Tanowitz plays with the curtain legs, placing dancers half exposed, or looping onstage briefly. Late in the work, Toogood dances on a small thrust built downstage of the curtain, which lowers to show only the other dancers' busy feet. She looks toward the curtain with some wistfulness, and rejoins for the finale.

Sara Mearns and Adrian Danchig-Waring in Scarlett's Acheron. Photo: Paul Kolnik
British choreographer Liam Scarlett's Acheron, a commission for New York City Ballet, premiered at the Koch Theater. In contrast to Tanowitz's formal, crystalline movement patterns, Acheron is more about being submerged in the impressionistic reverie of romance. An aggressive Poulenc organ line, played by Michael Hey, charges the opening atmosphere with drama and urgency; it cedes to symphonic sections, and ebbs to a softer, lustrous tone. At the start, the large group of dancers walks backward toward us; the corps is variously deployed to evoke waves sweeping across the stage, depositing one or two dancers to perform Scarlett's physical regimen of ballet. 

The women wear calf length dresses with purple bodices; the men, purple ombre cutoff tights (designed by Scarlett). Their torsos' musculature is emphasized in the many lifts that become an essential tool throughout the dance, and also underscores the high tone of romance, the equation of strength and vulnerability, of being swept off one's feet. Mark Stanley's dark lighting scheme abets the sense of mystery and impressionism. Antonio Carmena plays the lone man, free to leap and hurtle speedily across the stage, while three main pairs focus inward. There's a pliancy and airiness to Robert Fairchild and Tiler Peck's lifts, and she wends around him like a sleek cat. Megan Fairchild and Gonzalo Garcia dance a section with great propulsion and forceful partnering, and Andrew Veyette curves his body protectively around Sara Adams. While Scarlett doesn't set forth any radical new structure, there is a lush fervor and muscularity to his romantic vision.

No comments: