New York City Ballet audiences expect to see a diverse repertory from the Company, but this spring, they are in for a novel experience thanks to choreographer Pam Tanowitz. While Tanowitz has worked with NYCB dancers in the past, including Joseph Gordon, Gretchen Smith and Jared Angle for pieces that premiered at the Vail Dance Festival, her forthcoming first commissioned work for NYCB, Bartók Ballet, isn’t just a new affair for viewers, it’s stretching boundaries for the choreographer and dancers, too.
Pam Tanowitz has an illustrious career and a wide breadth of experience, especially in the modern dance world. From creating works for the Martha Graham Dance Company and the Paul Taylor Dance Company to spearheading her own eponymous group, Pam Tanowitz Dance, she is known for creating intimate modern works that often utilize classical steps.
NYCB Ballet Master Glenn Keenan has been working with Tanowitz on Bartók Ballet since the choreographer brought her previously-workshopped piece to the Company. She describes this particular work as post-modern with nods to choreographers of the past.
“There are some odes to Balanchine and Robbins and Cunningham, but it’s very much unlike anything that we generally do on our stage,” Keenan tells us between rehearsals. “It has a very specific aesthetic that’s not what we do on a day-to-day basis. I would attribute it closer to modern dance.”
While New York City Ballet dancers had to adapt to her personal choreographic style, which is different from many of the works in our repertory, Tanowitz has also had to adapt and learn from the Company dancers — namely choreographing dancers on pointe, which is not her usual mode of work.
“The dancers have all been really responsive to her,” Keenan says. “She has ideas of what she wants, so it’s very much been a joint effort with her asking them ‘Is this comfortable to do on pointe or would you rather do the next part on pointe?’ It’s been a very collaborative venture in that respect.”
Performance Photos from Tanowitz's Bartók Ballet
Corps de Ballet Member Kennard Henson, one of the 11 dancers in the piece, explains that Tanowitz is trying to find a balance between “traditional” ballet movement and her own movement style in this work for the Company.
“It’s been a different process than I’m used to because the style is so different than Balanchine or any other of the ballets that we do,” he says. “We have to get used to moving a certain way.”
However, the challenges of adapting to a new style of dance give the cast an opportunity to enjoy certain elements they don’t usually get to explore. For Henson, that’s being able to discover different kinds of movement and interactions onstage.
“You’re always attached to the floor,” he says. “Nothing is too high. Everything is grounded.”
“I think it’s a ballet that’s more for [the dancers] than the audience,” Henson explains. “That’s how the choreography works. If [we’re] not looking at each other, it doesn’t really read. She would always say, ‘Cunningham said you dance for each other, not the audience. You’re just allowing them to watch.’”