“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth.” How do you translate this, the 1st line of the Bible’s Track of Songs—or the relaxation of this historic collection of erotic poems—into a dance? And how do you do it in pure dance, with no kissing or acting? This is the task that the choreographer Pam Tanowitz has established herself in her new perform, “Song of Tracks,” which just lately premièred at Bard’s Fisher Centre. The poems, with their sensual exchanges among fans, famously make no point out of God, and have captivated generations of commentary—Jewish, Christian, allegorical, feminist. But what about viewing the poems by way of dance that is, through the system, which is, soon after all, their subject?
For Tanowitz, who is Jewish, generating “Song of Songs” was deeply particular. She began in 2019, a 12 months after her father died, obtaining uncovered herself wanting to produce a dance in his memory, a single that would honor their family’s heritage. She asked the composer David Lang to make a score for her dance close to his 2014 composition “Just (Following Music of Tracks).” The piece took a few several years to make, time that Tanowitz expended “shopping for ways,” as she has identified as this portion of her approach. She appeared at aged films of Jewish people dances and works by Jewish choreographers, and she turned especially interested in the hora, a circle dance preferred at Jewish weddings. She made a short movie, which juxtaposes archival footage, relatives historical past, and clips of her attempting out actions she has uncovered in her research—soon to be “spliced,” as she places it, with her very own ways and style.
Splicing is a significant element of Tanowitz’s system. She likes to mine actions from earlier choreographers—George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Martha Graham—stripping them of their emotional content and intercutting them with her individual steps right up until they meld. (She also once took a solo by Graham and “deconstructed” it, distributing its sections among the a number of dancers.) When Tanowitz settled in New York, in the nineties, she commenced combing archives for content to use in the dances she was showing. She established her firm, in 2000, at a time when modern dance was relocating significantly towards conceptual and political concerns, but she went her have way and invested the following two many years drilling into formalism. Her early pieces had been sometimes rough to follow, but you always understood there was a rigorous, unbiased mind at work.
Tanowitz’s style is usually likened to Cunningham’s for its linear purity, but her procedure may possibly be nearer to that of Twyla Tharp, who also draws on a huge vary of past materials and delights in formal participate in. But, if Tharp performs, Tanowitz purifies, and her fragmented dances experience oddly total, a world of abstracted sort. Or, as her father preferred to say when chatting about blunders he designed in his life, “In the stop it all gets pressed out, like a dry cleaner, almost everything gets pressed.” So, as well, in Tanowitz’s dances, uncooked materials are pressed out. The result may well be a thing magnificent and new, but splicing and urgent can also be a way of hiding: where by is Pam Tanowitz in all this official manipulation?
Recently, she has been discovering more mature texts. “Song of Songs” is the last dance in a trilogy, which started with “New Work for Goldberg Variations” (2017). “Four Quartets” (2018), to T. S. Eliot’s poem, is the most common, but I uncovered it overstuffed, its abstract dances vying for consideration with a recitation of the textual content, photographs by Brice Marden, and tunes by Kaija Saariaho. The demonstrate demanded a distracting kind of multitasking, while “New Get the job done for Goldberg Variations” felt considerably less freighted, with dance and Bach fully joined in a easy and stunning exposition.
The acclaim of “Four Quartets” built Tanowitz, at forty-eight, one of the most sought-after choreographers in New York. Commissions have flowed in, which includes from American Ballet Theatre, London’s Royal Ballet, and New York Town Ballet. The most latest of these is “Law of Mosaics,” to a rating by Ted Hearne. As the title indicates, the dance is created up of fragments—particularly of Balanchine—but Tanowitz brings together them in a way that offers the entire body terrific geometric lucidity. The crucial to the piece comes at the stop, in a solo for Sara Mearns, carrying light blue against a dark backdrop so that she practically appears illuminated from in. She moves back and forth in a prolonged bourrée—a step most effective recognised from “Swan Lake” but also considerably employed by Balanchine—which helps make the overall body appear to be to skim the floor. As Mearns traverses the stage, her arms make gestures from old ballets: crossed in loss of life, in prayer placement, a finger pointing. This goes on until finally the repetition and the absence of context make us sense an almost Beckettian emptiness—I cannot go on, I’ll go on—and she basically lies down on the ground and the lights go dark: a gorgeous assertion of meaninglessness.
“Song of Songs” is a analyze in abstraction. It begins with the development of a lyrical chorus in flowing costumes, probably the “daughters of Jerusalem” talked about in the poems: a local community of gals. They complete a crossover move from a hora, but the folks character of the source content is absent. One thing related is also at perform in other factors of the generation. Lang’s libretto will take words and phrases from the poems—we never ever listen to a total verse—and sets them to a soothingly hypnotic minimalist score. And, in a pre-exhibit discuss, Tanowitz explained how she, the light artist Clifton Taylor, and the costumers Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung had seemed at photographs of the Abuhav Synagogue, in Israel, with its striking vivid-blue bimah, a dais from which the Torah is read, surrounded by benches. The manufacturing abstracts this setting to a utilitarian blue round platform and bench, which demarcate the sacred place of dancing. The area is framed by walls made of cloth strips, allowing for the dancers to poke via from the profane areas exterior. Again, none of the religious context is there for the looking at. These are secret sources.
When a woman lover (Melissa Toogood) appears, she wears a darker dress than her choral companions and collapses regularly to the ground mid-step, a sign of her weakened, lovelorn spirit. Upon this world of girls appear the disruptive adult males: as they race into the sacred space, a male lover (Zachary Gonder) joins the dark-dressed lady in an agitated dance of longing. As the first portion will come to an conclude, we find the female on her possess, comfortingly circled by a further neighborhood on the blue system. Bent around, they search up at her in sympathy, but she simply cannot increase her eyes.
In the dances that abide by, there is no overt eroticism. The most we get is the woman’s hand fluttering like a heart on her individual shoulder. Even as the lyrics and the audio move from “my head is drenched in dew” to “open to me,” Tanowitz retains back again. When the girl reclines fleetingly on her lover, her neck gives way: a hint of enthusiasm, but no more. We recognize that even really like has been abstracted—pressed out. Emotion in this article comes from an intensity of restraint fairly than from surrender or sensuality. At 1st, I admired Tanowitz’s decorum, but there was a sameness to the beauty, and I commenced to really feel that her technique stood in the way of her insanity. How was all this suppression going to express the mind-boggling practical experience of getting rid of oneself in physical adore, or God, or equally?
The piece’s strangest second came towards the stop. The woman suddenly disappears and a new female replaces her, putting on a shiny unitard. A new man promptly swings this girl pretty much wildly into a traveling circle—the way that dad and mom do with modest youngsters. Quickly, anyone looks to be in a shiny unitard. Are we in a different realm? Is this twirling surplus the erotic launch? A neighborhood celebration? Tanowitz seemed to be likely for an psychological leap, but by renouncing her possess language, so meticulous and refined, she remaining us stranded in cliché. The dance came to a far too effortless close: another collective, huddled on the blue circle.
As I left the theatre, I felt bewildered by this juxtaposition of rigor and cliché and by the paradox of Tanowitz’s bodily exacting method—the source of her very best dances and, for now, of her finest psychological boundaries. Fusing so a lot of voices tends to make getting inside the lovers’ practical experience more difficult, and the final result is a dance that is extra about local community and peace than about erotic adore. This is calming, but peace is not the similar as adore. I wanted far more of the lovers—which could be a way of expressing I required a lot more of Pam Tanowitz. ♦