Pam Tanowitz: New Work for Goldberg Variations

The Williams Center

November 15, 20017

By Sarah Carlson

Bach’s Goldberg Variations hold a special place in the evolution of music. A piano based meditation at times contemplative, at times dizzyingly complex, it is firmly solidified as one of classical music’s most revered examples of theme and variation. Written over 250 years ago, pianists continue to find unique interpretations that unveil layers of expression and brilliance along the way. Simone Dinnerstein is one such pianist who received international acclaim for her recording of the score in 2005. She recently teamed up with NYC choreographer Pam Tanowitz and the product of their collaboration was on display last night at The Williams Center entitled simply “New Work for Goldberg Variations”. 

The robust audience at The Williams Center was ripe with music and dance lovers alike. A hushed anticipation settled as the lights dimmed. Out of the darkness came the notes of the opening variation which unfolded serenely. With almost imperceptible subtlety, a ray of light faded in to highlight Dinnerstein’s deft fingers playing her instrument. Achingly slowly, the shadows dissipated to reveal the silhouette of dancers listening reverently nearby. Humble walking patterns began with a simplicity that seemed to highlight the tender lilt of the melody. Placed center stage, the piano anchored the space as the six dancers moved like constellations in and out of orbit.

Brighter in tone and texture, the next movement inspired a flurry of hops, kicks, and brisk, frenetic formations. Layered chiffon tunics and pantsuits flowed like pastel tissue paper over the dancers’ linear bodies. They rocked, twitched and skittered across the stage with a stoic focus akin to the early post-modern years. Despite her earnestness, Tanowitz’s abstracted pedestrian approach to the opening variations seemed lackluster and dispassionate paired with the rich emotion of the score.

Later, however, hands connected, eyes met and a tenuous sense of camaraderie formed as the movement vocabulary became more virtuosic. An exquisite slow rise into arabesque, a pirouette that ends in suspended relevé, a series of fouettés with head tossing off kilter; flashes of sheer brilliance shined through. As the composition picked up, bodies delighted and intermingled with vivacious flow.

No matter how immersed in the movement the dancers became, however, it is apparent that the main star of this show was the music itself. At every turn, Tanowitz communicated her reverence.  The dancers interrelated with it via every means possible. One slid beneath the piano. Another leaned back-to-back against Dinnerstein as she played. Moments of stillness arose at opportune moments to let particularly exquisite piano passages dominate.

Each dancer was featured and enjoyed a moment to be whisked away by the notes and exquisite technique was displayed on every front. As the final variation drew to a close, the stage faded back into black. The end of another Goldberg interpretation, this one with a spring in it’s step.