There is nothing black or white about Pam Tanowitz’s newest work, Be In the Gray With Me, presented this past weekend at Dance Theater Workshop. Navigating the gray area between ballet and modern is tricky, but Tanowitz, who avoids labeling herself or her work, is an intelligent dancemaker. Be In the Gray With Me is full of elegant movement without excess. A narrative seems to be buried within the varied lighting, music, and thoughtful formations, but it is so subtle that it leaves the viewer wondering what, if anything, to make of it. Each of the four sections in the work is compelling, but each looks better on its own than as part of the whole.
Tanowitz’s movement is rooted in ballet vocabulary – arabesques, jetes, and fouettes are identifiable – and there are clear references to Balanchine works and the Rose Adagio from Sleeping Beauty. But the first section, set to Vladimir Martynov’s romantic score for strings, has the spatial awareness and unpredictability of Cunningham, while other, more richly textured sections refer to Paul Taylor’s strides and jumps. Tanowitz weaves history into her work, but she does so without simply rehashing what’s already been done. Be In the Gray With Me looks fresh and new, thanks in part to the nine gorgeous movers, especially Christina Amendolia and Ellie Kusner. Dressed in Renée Kurz’s sleek gray costumes with individual touches, the dancers have unique personalities. This is no cookie-cutter corps of swans.
Philip Treviño’s set design maximizes the space by hanging white plastic sheets along the sides and back, in place of the wings. Doors are cut into each sheet, eliminating the distinction between on and off stage and throwing into question where the piece begins and ends. The dancers can be seen starting a phrase behind the sheet before emerging, or calmly watching the others while waiting to enter. Treviño’s lighting bathes the dancers in shades of white, blue, and near the end of the work, a deep red. Just as varied is the music, which along with Martynov, includes Dan Siegler’s electronic score, the propelling rhythms of Pavel Karmonov, and an ambient composition by Alexandr Raskatov.
Ellie Kusner and Anne Lentz in Be in the Gray with Me, photo by Yi-Chun Wu
Moments of tenderness and intimacy among pure, imaginative movement hint at a narrative. There’s no clear arc, but something seems to be lurking. If a narrative exists, it’s hidden within the multilayered movement and spatial sophistication of the work, as opposed to being conveyed through gesture or facial expressions. Indeed, the dancers remain so serene (and at times reserved) and their phrase work so fluid that it’s impossible to see a story in their individual performances. Nothing about Be In the Gray With Me is obvious. The viewer has to look closely into the hazy, beautiful gray area to discover all of the work’s nuances.