Friday, December 13, 2019

Tanowitz's Goldberg Variations—Restoring Faith

Simone Dinnerstein (at piano), Netta Yerushalmy, Jason Collins, Maggie Cloud, and Melissa Toogood. Photo: Marina Levitskaya
When choreographing, Pam Tanowitz doesn’t always give the lead to music, but in the case of New Work for Goldberg Variations at the Joyce, she does so unreservedly. And why not? when it’s Bach’s Goldberg Variations played live—onstage and centerstage—by the brilliant pianist Simone Dinnerstein. The sublime costumes (by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung) and ambrosial lighting (Davison Scandrett) warmly suffuse and complement the piece. Dinnerstein's sensitive, romantic interpretation acts as a gravitational force around which the dancers spin, flit, and play. The 75-minute work is a double dose of perfection if you love dance and music. 

Tanowitz has experimented with ballet and modern over the course of her career, pulling apart conventions, splitting up the body’s symmetry, applying a little bit of “exquisite corpse” to predictable positions and phrasing. In Goldberg, the vocabulary relaxes into what are often basic, fundamental human moves—step-taps, grapevines, loping chassĂ©es, jumps. But it’s less of the post-Cunningham analytics that we’ve seen from her before, even if some quirks pop up now and again.

Simone Dinnerstein (at piano), Jason Collins and Netta Yerushalmy. Photo: Marina Levitskaya
The six dancers (a seventh, Victor Lozano, was ailing) are kind of like an all-star team; many are familiar from long stints with established troupes, and all are extremely accomplished. We know Maile Okamura from Mark Morris (as well, she designs costumes), Melissa Toogood from Cunningham, and Netta Yerushalmy from her own work as well as Doug Varone. Lindsey Jones, Christine Flores, and Jason Collins are veterans of numerous companies. They all bring a confidence to the stage felt not only from their skilled technique, but their artistic maturity, and some faint stylistic DNA from previous collaborators. (Toogood’s appurtenance is cool and hawk-eyed; Okamura knows how to walk without affectation, as Morris often advocates.)

Naturally, some of Bach’s rhythms are reflected in the movement, which evolves according to each of the many variations. Step-tapping in a circle, the proceedings feel like a happy, courtly ritual. Distinctive solos and moves are accorded each performer, crafted around their individual strengths. When the most devilish music crops up—hummingbird-fast fingerwork, crossing hands—the choreograph cedes the spotlight to Dinnerstein, and the dancers sit and watch, in awe, with us. Any dance work featuring a pianist on stage and dancers interacting with her evoke Jerome Robbins, who pioneered a kind of playful ease and visual banter that welcomes in viewers.

The visual effect is created with warm whites, creams, and golds with splashes of hot and cool colors. The costumes are sheer gossamer tunics and pants, and later jumpsuits, in these transparent hues, over gold leotards. The entirety is a satisfying whole that affirms art’s ability to enrich, and restores at least a little bit of faith in humanity.

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