What a treat it was this past Wednesday to see dancers fully clothed, free of shock-value tricks and costumes that are eventually removed. What a luxury it was to take in the beautifully arched feet and luscious lines of the dancers at my own leisure. Pam Tanowitz’s newest piece, The Spectators, is a triumph of form, space and aesthetics – all without resorting to tired, dull or unimaginative choreographic devices.

Pam Tanowitz, The Spectators © Ian Douglas
Pam Tanowitz, The Spectators
© Ian Douglas

Ms Tanowitz owes much to Merce Cunningham in her use of balletic below-the-waist activity juxtaposed with static or often upright torsos, but that is not to say that her movement vocabulary isn’t fresh. Her six dancers execute this deconstruction of ballet masterfully and imbue it with an almost careless dignity. The stage, which was cleared of wings and featured brightly-colored spike tape in right-angled designs, often served as a guide for the dancers as they bourréed downstage center and slithered purposefully amongst light trees. Clothed in costume designer Renee Kurz’s leotards and leggings in popping blues, orange, green, and reds (which showed off the dancers’ lines admirably but bunched slightly and distractingly), the sextet arched, developpéd and piquéd with the most supple of feet. Melissa Toogood, after a somewhat shaky opening, soon proved that this piece belongs mainly to her. In a later duet with Dylan Grossman, no lift was hurried and no arabesque line unfinished, despite an often swift pace. One particularly serene partnering had Mr Gross man lifting Ms Toogood by the toros high above his head, as she extended into a stag leap at the last possible moment – only to be lowered so smoothly to the ground, to repeat the lift, that one might think she were bouncing off cotton-candy clouds. A kiss at the end of their duet, nicely punctuated by lighting designer Davison Scandrett’s flashing colored lights, felt out of place but not unwanted by me, as an audience member.

Though I occasionally missed the intricate intersections and constant hubbub of many bodies on stage that I last saw in Ms Tanowitz’s Fortune in the Fall for Dance festival last year, I found solace in the surprising way each dancer would seamlessly insert him- or herself into an ongoing group phrase. I had to count the number of dancers onstage a few times to reassure myself that only six were performing. Other times, however, the dancers’ interactions with each other felt confusing; most of the piece was indeed pervaded by an air of “spectating”, in a somewhat voyeuristic sort of way. Rarely, the dancers who touch hands to each other’s shoulders or, in the case of Ms Toogood and Mr Grossman, define their onstage relationships. But the contact produced by partnering felt the most genuine.

Maggie Cloud seemed most at home with Ms Tanowitz’s more bombastic moments of technique and extension, but each dancer in this piece deserves special recognition. Andrew Champlin’s cambrés! Pierre Guilbault’s wonderfully malleable arches! Sarah Haarmann’s attack! Each seemed at the top of his or her game.

The FLUX Quartet, which played Annie Gosfield’s music live for the second half of the piece, was a performance unto itself. There was much vigor and whipping of hair, as the often ominously building score kept my pulse jittery and my eyes alert as much as the movement itself did.

Ms Tanowitz deserves much accolade for her mesmerizing ability to transform familiar balletic steps into fresh and emotive choreography.

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