Pam Tanowitz Dance Takes Over the Zellerbach Theatre for a Site-Specific Night of Dance

By Debra Danese for The Dance Journal

The Annenberg Center presented Pam Tanowitz Dance on Thursday, October 15, 2020, as the second of five companies comprising their 2020 Digital Dance Series. The New York based choreographer came to Philadelphia with four dancers and two pieces for the evening’s program. Gustave Le Gray, No. 2, was a piece Tanowitz previously set on her company, but which had never been publicly performed. Annenberg Solos: Sites 1-4 was a world-premiere that was constructed around the design of the Zellerbach Theatre.

Creating work for Livestream is a different process, and Tanowitz acknowledged in the post-show Q&A that she has been learning the art of filmmaking and what that entails for staging dance. It is also a different experience for audiences. For this program, I had mixed reactions about the production as a viewer of virtual performance.

For instance, I found the videography for Gustave Le Gray, No. 2 distracting at times. The different close-ups that were used often cut off the dancers from either the waist up or down. I also felt I was missing the full visual experience when the camera zoomed in, and I could not see all the dancers onstage. This made watching the piece feel disjointed to me. The work itself was noteworthy. The choreography had a strong ballet influence with detailed footwork and the use of long lines extending from the hands to the feet. Tanowitz showed a flair for fusing quirky details in her phrases, accompanied by a rich musical score by Pulitzer Prize winning composer Caroline Shaw.

Company members Jason Collins, Christine Flores, Zachary Gonder, and Victor Lozano performed the first dance quartet. In Annenberg Solos: Sites 1-4, the dancers were featured in different sites throughout the theatre. Tanowitz decided to embrace the audience’s absence and utilize locations such as the wings and the auditorium. Zachary Gonder performed in the corner of the balcony. He incorporated the wall and railing, which gave dimension to the otherwise small area. The lighting used in this space cast dramatic shadows that enhanced the movements and gave the piece an intimate feel. I particularly enjoyed Lozano’s segments, which blended idiosyncratic movements with classical ones. The solos were collaborations between the choreographer and the artists. Tanowitz said she posed different problems for the dancers to solve as part of the creative process. The results showed four unique interpretations.

As with the opening piece, I struggled with certain elements of the production. There were obvious, well planned artistic choices regarding the soundtrack and videography. Bringing them together with the choreography, I could not appreciate how they were meant to enrich or complement each other.

Christopher Gruits, Executive and Artistic Director of the Annenberg Center, moderated the post-show Q&A with Tanowitz. I find that hearing a choreographer’s perspective to be invaluable in better understanding the layers of their work. Tanowitz spoke of creating dance for this new platform and the learning process that comes with it. Her responses offered an interesting insight into creating, rehearsing, and staging for Livestream.

Photo credit: Christopher Duggan

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