New York-based Tanowitz has a fresh and exacting approach to dance. Aware of everything that went before – classical ballet, contemporary technique, Merce Cunningham – she deconstructs and reassembles their steps in her unique way, so that the components are instantly recognisable, yet come across as new and surprising.
READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH PAM TANOWITZ HERE
Secret Things is a 25-minute piece for eight dancers set to a string quartet by Anna Clyne. As the house lights go down, a solitary dancer – Hannah Grennell – stands in front of the musicians, before slowly making her way to the stage.
Her costume, colourful, blingy, her sequined leotard covered by translucent yellow organza (costume designer Victoria Bartlett) hints at playfulness, though, as in all Tanowitz works, her face remains expressionless. Wearing turquoise pointe shoes, her feet appear to search for new ways of moving. Up. Down. Flex. Fast bourrée.
She is joined by other dancers, in a ceaseless assembly of groupings that form and dissolve to reform in a kaleidoscope of shape and colour.
Artists of The Royal Ballet in Secret Things by Pam Tanowitz. Photo: Alice Pennefather ROH 2023
Clyne’s lush melodies play with contrasts of power and softness, sound and silence; but there are no in-betweens in Tanowitz’s work. Each movement gives way to its opposite: perfectly aligned balletic poses – foot pointed forward, a soft port de bras – suddenly drop into an unsuspected alternative.
There are fleeting quotes from the past: a Balanchine hand flip here, a touch of the national dance staples of the great classics there…
As Secret Things draws to a close, only Liam Boswell, a young dancer of exceptional promise, is left.
Liam Boswell in Secret Things by Pam Tanowitz. Photo: Alice Pennefather ROH 2023
As if summoned by distant sounds he ambles off, softly whistling, a great flurry of movement subsiding into nothingness.
Tanowitz created Everyone Keeps Me for the 2019 commemoration of Merce Cunningham’s centennial. A piece for nine dancers, it is set to a post-modernist string quartet by Ted Hearne, and is an altogether softer work, from the flowing pastel costumes for the women (Fay Fullerton) to its slightly more pensive movements.
Artists of The Royal Ballet in Everyone Keeps Me by Pam Tanowitz. Photo: Alice Pennefather ROH 2023
The quotes this time are primarily homages to Cunningham, the great American pioneer of post-modern dance, and the piece follows Cunningham's prescriptive separation of movement from music.
Seeing the two pieces in sequence helps broaden our view of Tanowitz’s ever-inventive canvas.
Sandwiched between the two is a short film of her Dispatch Duet, created for last year’s Royal Ballet’s A Diamond Celebration programme. Anthoula Syindica-Drummond’s film d’auteur, edits together short sequences shot in a number of ROH locations, its close-ups of the dancers – principals Anna Rose O’Sullivan and William Bracewell – offering new angles to this exhilarating work.
A final word for the dancers in the two live pieces: all from The Royal Ballet's lower ranks, they mastered the demands of the unique Tanowitz style with tremendous aplomb.
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