Pam Tanowitz’s Be In the Gray With Me (at DTW through last Saturday) is a major step for this choreographer whose work has been shown in New York for years, but in primarily smaller venues. Tanowitz has made a piece (video clip after the jump) that speaks not only about dance and its history, but also about the very nature of a theatrical dance presentation. It feels somehow of the moment, and yet timeless; simple and elegant, yet inquisitive on many levels.
The nine dancers, in Renée Kurz’s elegant grey silk duds, move through low arabesques, hefty plies, deep lunges, and other semi-nameable moves. They perform solo, or in pairs or groups. The women watch a man closely, and then taking turns supporting him in one of several “aha” ballet quotes—here, the Rose Adagio from The Sleeping Beauty. Technical formality switches off with a casualness, as when they sit onstage in the style of Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’Herbe and when Dylan Crossman begins to mime a dance with his fingers as Theresa Ling circles around him in a big solo.
Artists are seemingly becoming attuned to effective treatments of DTW’s large theater (such as Ivy Baldwin and Christopher Williams). Tanowitz, with set and lighting designer Philip Treviño, seized upon its capaciousness, delineating the performance space with three sheets of plastic, the side panels perforated with portals. The plastic was left to bask in its, well, plasticness—wrinkles intact, semi-translucency permitting us to see dancers catching a beam of light cast down the wings during entrances/exits or when they would whisk, phantom-like, upstage. On and offstage were delineated, but we were allowed to examine both at once.
A muslin curtain bisects the stage about halfway through, creating compartments defined by colored light and inhabited by contingents of dancers. Treviño showed invention with the lighting, whether he lit the stage simply in clear white or blue, or created a more ceremonial feel by projecting columns built of white spots on each side, or delineating “rooms” with different colors and spotlights. Late in the piece, an upstage curtain of vertical strips was set off by horizontal bands of red, yellow and blue light.
Anne Lentz distinguishes herself in a group of outstanding dancers with her precision and clarity of line. Rashaun Mitchell (currently a Cunningham dancer but before that, he danced with Tanowitz) doesn’t appear until about halfway into the work, but he quickly takes the spotlight with a lively, space-eating solo. Glen Rumsey does a funny segment where he saunters downstage crossing his steps exaggeratedly while smoothing his hands against his thighs. It feels confrontationally intimate—a bit like Pina Bausch—and is one of the small ironic touches that Tanowitz drops in to alter dynamics.
The music, a mix of quirky contemporary classical and ambient sustained chords, provides appropriate atmosphere and texture for Tanowitz’s new work—as much satisfying context as fascinating content.
L-R: Ashlee Kittleson; Theresa Ling; Christina Amendolia. Photo: Yi-Chun Wu