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Bard SummerScape | Pam Tanowitz Dance & FLUX Quartet
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Bard SummerScape | Pam Tanowitz Dance & FLUX Quartet

Picture of Patricia Contino
Updated: 11 December 2015
Bard SummerScape is different than the other Tri-state summer festivals. The College’s main Annandale-on-Hudson, NY campus is home to the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts where Frank Gehry’s majestic silver façade rose out of the Hudson Valley 13 years ago. SummerScape’s schedule is just as expansive, a welcome alternative to safe classical “Pops” programming. The festival’s opening week marked the Bard debut of Pam Tanowitz Dance.
Fisher Center for the Performing Arts | © Patricia Contino
Fisher Center for the Performing Arts | © Patricia Contino

Tanowitz is technically a “modern” choreographer. All three works on the Sosnoff Theater program were sophisticated, tightly structured movement responses to music – played onstage by her frequent collaborators The FLUX Quartet. Fascinated by ballet, Tanowitz’ dancers perform bare foot. The two stunning ballets Tanowitz created for New York Theatre Ballet, Double Andante (2015) and Short Memory (2014), explore rather than exploit ballet technique. This curiosity continues in her home company. By merging two styles, she creates one of her own that is intelligent and graceful, yet not afraid to look occasionally awkward. Perhaps it is time to forgo “modern” vs. “ballet” labelling and refer to Tanowitz’s style as simply “dance”.

Dylan Crossman and Sarah Haarmann | © Cory Weaver
Dylan Crossman and Sarah Haarmann | © Cory Weaver

During the pre-concert talk, Tanowitz discussed the origins of Broken Story (wherein there is no ecstasy) (2015), the first piece on the program. Commissioned by Works & Process at the Guggenheim, Tanowitz asked composers Caroline Show, David Lang, and Ted Hearne to contribute despite never writing for dance before. Tanowitz’s original idea was a story ballet based on J.D. Salinger’s The Heart of the Broken Story. Instead of two people who never meet, two couples in white (Maggie Cloud and Dylan Crossman; Stuart Singer and Melissa Tongood) each perform an extended duet.

Cloud and Crossman are lyrical, holding her hand as she executes single pirouettes. Singer and Tongood move on a faster plane, showing off their prodigious jumps. Tanowitz told the audience to look for “lifts that count.” Their careful choreographic placement provided an opportunity to see their execution. Whether ballet, modern or Broadway, a lift is always carefully plotted – the two dancers are on opposite sides of the stage and she delicately runs towards him and he catches her overhead or in his arms – but it happens so fast. Tanowitz eliminates the drama and slows down the action to reveal the equal amount of communication and trust involved.

Maggie Cloud and Dylan Crossman in Broken Story | © Cory Weaver
Maggie Cloud and Dylan Crossman in Broken Story | © Cory Weaver

Solo provided a preview of August’s Bard Music Festival with their orchestra-in-residence The American Symphony Orchestra , led by Music Director-Bard College President Leon Botstein. This year’s theme is “Chávez and His World.” Tanowitz selected his Sonata for Violin and Piano for the Bard commission danced by Ashley Tuttle.

The sampling of Chávez’s melodious music was enough to want to hear more. However, the focus was rightly on Tuttle. When she was with American Ballet Theater, the former Principal danced not only Swan Lake, but also Twyla Tharp. Wearing pointe shoes and costumed in pink and purple, she performed around and for violinist Pauline Kim Harris and pianist Michael Scales. Again, Tanowitz shredded dance mystery. While Solo is no classroom exercise, Tuttle demonstrated what being en pointe means. Luck does not make the deceptively delicate (not to mention expensive) toe shoe work: the foot does. Tanowitz also provided an unusual “partner” for Tuttle by having her do stomach contractions with lifted legs on the floor, implying that the stage assisted her in an invisible underground lift.

Ashley Tuttle in Solo | © Cory Weaver
Ashley Tuttle in Solo | © Cory Weaver

A half-raised curtain revealing dancing behind it indicated the start of Heaven on One’s Head. Tanowitz mentioned that she likes “playing with space” and this 2014 work illustrates it. Heaven on One’s Head personifies Conlon Nancarrow’s String Quartet 1 and 3. Nancarrow (1912-1997) is famous for his rigorous compositions for player piano. His string quartets (there is no second one) are no less complex, and FLUX played them dexterously.

In turn, Tanowitz (who gave FLUX full credit for suggesting the music) had each dancer dressed in red velvet rompers correspond to one or several of the many musical themes. The shifting groupings made it look like they doubled in number. Heaven on One’s Head revealed what could become a signature “Tanowitz move” – a deep side lunge with one foot raised up and down.

Lindsey Jones in Untitled Solo  | © Cory Weaver
Lindsey Jones in Untitled Solo | © Cory Weaver

There was a bonus dance. Lindsey Jones performed the silent Untitled Solo in the lobby during intermission. She moved between two pillars, repeating the same steps between the two points in space. The audience filled in around her and even put the cameras away to watch.