Pam Tanowitz Dance

May 20, 2010

Pam Tanowitz Dance
Danspace Project

St. Mark’s Church, NYC
May 20–22, 2010

Reviewed by Siobhan Burke

Members of the Purchase Dance Corps in
The Wanderer Fantasy (Dance 1). Photo by Ted Kivett, Courtesy Danspace.


In the world of downtown performance, crisp, clean, classical technique rarely takes center stage. While identifying with that experimental world, Pam Tanowitz has carved out a postmodern oasis for the ballet and classical modern vocabulary. In her latest work, The Wanderer Fantasy (Dances 1 and 2), steps that could easily come across as academic or dated (like Taylor-esque sissonnes, or a simple kick-ball-change) looked fresh, relevant, and coolly ironic. If Tanowitz were a fashion designer, she might be restoring vintage dresses.


The opening “Wanderer Fantasy (Dance 1)” felt infinitely watchable, not just for its gorgeous geometry, but for the spirit and focus of its 18 dancers, members of the SUNY Purchase Dance Corps. (A 19th, Purchase alum Daniel Madoff of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, joined them.) Squeezing a large ensemble into this intimate venue, Tanowitz still managed to make the space feel vast, like a deep forest. She was aided by Philip Treviño’s set, which itself seemed like an abstraction of “forest”: Pillars of cardboard boxes, adorned with electric green slashes, formed the backdrop and sidestage “wings,” fanciful under his dappled lighting scheme.

Set to a recording of Schubert/Liszt’s invigorating Wanderer-Fantasie, “Dance 1” began with a pregnant pause, prepping us for ever-shifting motion: The dancers walked in, stopped, looked at the audience. From there, Tanowitz mobilized them in such a way that several disparate activities were often happening at once. The ordered randomness echoed Cunningham, as did the generally task-oriented attitude. At one point, the dancers converged in an elaborate formation that looked like the prow of a ship—a symbol as grandiose as the score, but it materialized without fanfare and disbanded just as effortlessly.

Even in its matter-of-factness, “Dance 1” captured the playful connotations of “wandering”: discovery, whimsy, curiosity. Some moments were surprisingly funny, like a wrist draped wearily across a forehead, mechanical prancing-in-place, or arms tossed down in bemused frustration.


The space emptied out for three solos—performed by members of Tanowitz’s company to Dan Siegler’s minimalist electronic score—which functioned as a kind of bridge to “Dance 2.” A column of boxes was removed from the center of the backdrop to reveal a curtain of golden streamers bathed in a rich yellow glow. This was where Anne Lentz, when done with her solo, stood observing Dylan Crossman (also from MCDC), whose despondent tombé pas de bourrées and sideways skittering, fists pressed to eyes, evoked a melancholy that we hadn’t yet seen. Approaching her at the end, he seemed ready to enter her luminous realm but remained on the cusp.

Crossman brought back excerpts of this solo in “Dance 2,” an octet set to a live version of the same Schubert music, played by pianist Alan Feinberg. The pace of this section was slower and the mood not quite as revelatory. But Tanowitz created a satisfying sense of continuity, as if guiding us back to somewhere we’d been, now cast in different light.