“When I started with The Spectators, I made all these sections and then looked at how they would fit together,” explained Pam Tanowitz to writer Gia Kourlas in last Sunday’s New York Times. “What skin is it going to live in? That’s really why I’m a choreographer: It’s how I understand the world.”
Opening tomorrow, Wednesday, May 15th here at New York Live Arts, The Spectators is Tanowitz’s newest work, commissioned by us. In the Times article, Tanowitz also goes on to discuss the process of self-critique she has undergone in the making of The Spectators, and what she has learned over the past few years while working on this commission.
“Ms. Tanowitz’s approach is simple on the surface: she makes steps to music. Yet in her deeply rigorous excavations of ballet and classic modern vocabulary, she gives potentially antiquated steps a fresh feel,” writes Kourlas.
Read the full story and join us for the world premiere this week to see what Ms. Tanowitz has in store for us.
Each season New York Live Arts (Live Arts) selects three (3) writers to produce written pieces known as “Context Notes” to accompany each show on the season. Context Notes are published in Live Arts programs and are intended to frame questions, spark discussion, and explore/expand the experience of seeing work on the Live Arts stage. This year, Live Arts seeks to include new voices and diverse perspectives by issuing an open call for writers.
Context notes writers will receive an honorarium of $1000 (USD), as well as one to two complimentary tickets to the Live Arts presentation for which they are writing (depending on availability) on the 2013/2014 season. Samples of past context notes can be found here on the New York Live Arts blog.
Applications are due by 5pm on Monday June 3rd, 2013. No late applications will be accepted. Please direct all questions to Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, Producing Associate- Humanities and Engagement at firstname.lastname@example.org
I recently had the pleasure of stepping into a Pam Tanowitz rehearsal/world. And what an extraordinarily complex world it was…
When I arrived, Tanowitz and her dancers were diligently working on the first section of her newest work, “The Spectators.” The rehearsal space was calm and quiet; tightly controlled, yet relaxed. There was an energetic orderliness to the space that she and her dancers had created together. Inside of it, Tanowitz was confident and contained like a horse whisperer, cueing each dancer by saying their names, and then watching closely for the subtlest of details. It was a private dialogue, barely audible to an outsider. Yet, as I watched, it quickly became evident that Tanowitz is a champion of movement. She embodies a deeply committed somatic knowledge and an unequivocal love for the steps themselves, the discipline, and the rigor associated with traditional dance forms. Tanowitz is a devoted craftsman and a formidable part of a long dance lineage.
Tradition: an inherited, established, or customary pattern of ideas, action, or behavior.
Experimentation: the testing of an idea
Tanowitz’s work sincerely exists somewhere between these two defining, artistic standards. She is well versed in formalism while setting it up in a contemporary framework, making her work exist as a kind of experimental homage to classic forms. Of her unique vision and methodology, Tanowitz says:
These explorations of time-honored, codified movement vocabularies allow for new forms to be born from what has already come. I attempt deconstruction to arrive at a new place – a new way of seeing and most importantly, a new way of understanding the human being in movement.
“The Spectators” breaks down formalism whilst simultaneously preserving it. The piece works to carry recognizable traditional movements into abstraction through a series of subtle, striking movements. It’s a kind of classical dance, re-imagined.
During the rehearsal, I was sitting in a chair, transfixed by the seamless laboring of these dancers. Together and alone, her dancers emit a string of shapes and designs, with a kind of cunning(ham) precision. My attention was held captive by their relentless control and beauty. Tanowitz’s movement logic is both voluminous and austere with a barely contained virtuosity, brimming beneath every moment. Her work is careful but strong. Narratives slip in and out and a deep, textured emotionality persists.
There are so many crucial elements that make up a Tanowitz world. Each element is held in place and supported by one another – creating a complex aesthetic ecosystem. “The Spectators” is a mature mixture of solo and ensemble work that boasts elaborate steps, formations, and complex lifts, all foregrounded by a minimalist soundscore. The end of section one features a beautiful solo that concludes with a dancer powerfully stomping her feet into the ground, with the rest of the ensemble drumming along – a crescendo moment that brings the whole piece into a seductive, percussive unity. It’s moments like these that make “The Spectators” rich with varying emotional tones. There exists a kind of latent tension and yearning, an unquenchable desire to belong inside of this particular Tanowitz world.
Balance is a good word to describe the entire work. There is an innate balance between form and experimentation, between the rigor and risk of each movement. There is balance between solo and ensemble material, a balance of live music and movement. “The Spectators” is sensorial and textured yet, minimal and cerebral. It is an exercise in both technique and emotionality. It features innovative physical geometries, creating images of bodies, methodically carved out in space. It all comes together to create an eerie equilibrium that will haunt you.
Photographer Ian Douglas spent seven days working with the staff of New York Live Arts to capture images from the Live Ideas festival, including behind-the-scenes moments and intimate performance shots.
Take a moment to peruse this photo recap of our inaugural Live Ideas festival exploring The Worlds of Oliver Sacks featuring Douglas’ images, as well as a few by photographer Cherylynn Tsushima.
Burr Johnson has been choreographing and presenting dances in New York City since 2009. His works have been shown at Dixon Place, Judson Church, Rooftop Dance, Elizabeth Dee Gallery, Josée Bienvenu Gallery and Danspace Project/St. Mark’s Church. In May 2012, Danspace Project presented the first full evening of his work with Special Collections and Shimmering Islands. Johnson has performed in the works of Walter Dundervill, Christopher Williams, Helen Simoneau, Shen Wei and John Jasperse. He holds a B.F.A in Dance and Choreography from Virginia Commonwealth University. In his spare moments away from Dance he is in Bushwick, either gardening or snuggling with his cat.
Burr Johnson’s Long Division consists of the second draft of a group dance for four fronts. Departing from his previous practice of guiding artistic creation in response to the spaces in which works would eventually be performed, in Long Division Johnson uses the seating of the audience as a starting point. Called “long-limbed and striking” (The New York Times), Johnson, known for creating “promising choreography” with “delicious qualities” (The New York Times) explores themes such as physical implication of audience members, proximity and diversity of vantage points in Long Division.
Studio Series: Burr Johnson
May 10 & 11 at 6pm
Sign up for Burr’s Shared Practice, May 11, 1:30-3:30pm, $15.
Studio Series receives generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the Foundation For Contemporary Arts, and The Puffin Foundation.
“My work is mostly around my family. About who I am, where I come from. What is my struggle?” says Souleymane Badolo, who goes by the first name Solo. Born in the landlocked west African nation of Burkina Faso, his wholly unexpected career as a dancer has taken him far from home. Now, his dances are one way of staying connected. “My dad, my mom, my ancestors, my land–I’m still living with them, because I’m thinking about them when I’m performing. I’ve got that energy on my mind, on my body, when I’m on the stage.”
Badolo’s 2010 piece “Yaado” was about his mother, who struggled to have children (she gave birth to 15, only three of whom survived). In Buudo, BADOO, BADOLO, he tells the story of his great-great grandfather’s difficulty beginning a family. When he was unable to conceive, he was told by his father spirit in a dream that he must seek out the traditional diviners, who foretell the future using markings made in the sand, based on a person’s name, their ancestors’ names, their age, the date and time of the reading and the sun. While other forms of divination employ cowrie shells, patterns in water, palm reading and the tracks of rats in ashes that have been left to sit overnight, the markings in sand are the most common kind.
Badolo himself has studied how to read the divination patterns, and while he has no interest in telling the future, he uses them almost as maps, to help him structure his dances; “how many times the movement wants to repeat, where the movement has to go,” he says. “It’s like John Cage ‘throwing’ the day,” he adds, referring to Cage and Merce Cunningham’s use of the I Ching to determine the order of sections in a dance, sometimes moments before curtain. (In Badolo’s case, he sets the dances once he’s used the divination technique to help him arrange his movements into a composition.) He references divination in Buudo, BADOO, BADOLO, replacing the sand with rice.
The diviner told Badolo’s great-great grandfather he must travel to another part of the country. There, if the landowner agreed to marry his daughter to Badolo’s ancestor, she would bear him children. He worked the land for five years before asking, and after he asked, the landowner made him wait another two before he decided. In the end, he consented, and the new couple started the family from which Badolo comes. “This is the true story,” he says, adding, “If this didn’t happen, I wouldn’t exist.”
Badolo’s own son was born in the United States, also a long way from where he started. “It’s a really long journey,” he says. “This story is not only about my great-great grandfather. It’s about my grandfather, my dad, myself, my son and my son’s son. All of our family.”
If by these measures, Badolo’s very existence is remarkable, his life as a dancer is equally so. Many obstacles could easily have prevented him from being where he is today. The first was his desire to educate himself, which conflicted with his first professional work in dance, in a company that
performed many of the more than 72 traditional dances from that same number of ethnic groups that make up Burkina Faso. When faced with the choice between dance and school, school was the clear winner; in the world in which Badolo grew up, dance wasn’t a job. As a teenager, he did it purely for fun. “When you dance people really are so happy, and they give you candy,” he remembers. “When you perform, it’s not about money. When you walk down the street, they say, ah, you know, this boy is a good dancer, he knows how to move. That was my motivation. . . It was not a profession for me.”
A greater barrier still were his peers, who also didn’t think dancing was a career, especially for a man. “They said, if you’re doing dance, you’re going to be a woman,” Badolo says. Over these practical and cultural objections, his family supported him. His very first dancing was with his brothers, all experts in Dodo, the dance native to his region and Gurunsi ethnicity. Of his mother, he says “She loved to move.” The only family member he never saw dance, even at parties, was his father, though Badolo says he must have danced at funerals in their village, as is the custom. “Maybe he was shy to move,” Badolo says, “or maybe he was not a very good dancer.”
Once Badolo had opened himself to a life in dance, he remained closed at first to Western forms. “Contemporary dance is for white people, not for black people,” he says, recalling his initial thinking on the subject. Formally, he also found it utterly foreign. “It didn’t look like dance to me.”
Gradually, with coaxing from an Italian journalist in town for Burkina Faso’s prestigious film festival, and from a choreographer at the French Cultural Center, Badolo decided that learning Western forms could be a valuable part of his artistic education. Now, he looks at cultural difference as a lens through which he’s able to see himself more clearly. “Learning different cultures is how to learn how to teach yourself, and how to be yourself,” he says.
It’s also a defining part of his work stylistically. “I have to find the center, the middle, of both. Not to forget what I Iearned [in Europe], and not to forget what I have [from home]. It’s how I can combine the two ideas, the two different educations together, to make one education. . . It’s how to use the different languages to make one language.”
It’s a language uniquely his own, and in a global environment more and more defined by cross-cultural creative pollination, one could argue it’s more contemporary–a more accurate reflection of our world right now–than any of the movement teachings from which it sprang.
Badolo’s deep appreciation of where he’s arrived at this point along his journey–and the opportunities the United States has given him–is his inspiration for “Barak,” which, although it can have other meanings, in this case is Gurunsi for “greeting.” “What can I give to America?” Badolo asks. “I cannot give anything to America. Only to greet America. . . All of the people in this country, I am greeting them.”
—Olivia Jane Smith
Olivia Jane Smith is a New York-based writer and editor with a focus on the performing arts. She hopes her work will make people want to know more, and hopefully see for themselves, the artists and performances she writes about. She is thrilled to be part of the Context Notes program at New York Live Arts. You can read more of her writing on the blog New York Theatre Review, where she is a frequent contributor. You can also follow her on Tumblr and Twitter.
Tara O’Con’s work has been presented consistently since 2005 in showcases around NYC, including Dancenow | NYC, and Dance Theater Workshop’s Fresh Tracks series. Her work has also been commissioned and presented by Danspace Project, The Chocolate Factory Theater, and most recently as part of the River To River Festival produced by The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. As a performer, she is a long-time contributing member of Third Rail Projects and also performs regularly for mvworks/Megan Sprenger. Tara O’Con’s Frame explores ideas surrounding the role of cinematic tone in the performance of movement. Three months into the first phase of choreographic exploration, O’Con approaches the work as a cinematographer might approach a film. How are actions framed by the space? When are the performers zoomed in and zoomed out from the viewers’ point of view? When is the duration of images sustained versus choppy? How do all of those factors affect the experience of building and releasing tension? Analyzing how the performer’s focus guides that of the viewer, the work also questions how sustained images or durational movement can resonate when cut by abrupt stillness or change.
Studio Series: Tara O’Con
May 3 and 4 at 6pm