On Saturday, the Joyce Theater broadcast a premiere by choreographer Pam Tanowitz, who started the program with the words: “It’s not really finished yet.”
This wasn’t a confession of negligence or an excuse for over-planning, though Ms. Tanowitz, who was one of New York’s most sought-after choreographers before the pandemic, has been remarkably busy lately, doing video dancing for both the New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theater.
Rather, Ms. Tanowitz’s words were self-explanatory in the manner of an artistic statement. The title of the new work is “Finally unfinished: Part 1”. This was the second half of the 35-minute event, which was available on request through December 26th, coupled with another recently published work, “Gustave Le Gray, No. 2”. ”
What we have here are parts, parts, versions, recycled matter. A program note shows that “Finally unfinished” is based on choreographic material from works that Ms. Tanowitz previously presented at Joyce. “Gustave Le Gray, No. 2” is related to “Gustave Le Gray, No. 1” which was created for the Miami City Ballet and the Dance Theater of Harlem last year (and slated for the City Ballet 2022 schedule) .
And there is already a “Finally Unfinished: Part 2”. It is a website, a “digital box of curiosities” (funnily designed by Jeremy Jacob like a cut-and-paste scrapbook with stop-motion animation) that brings together some of Ms. Tanowitz’s inspirations for dance.
The livestream event is also a kind of scrapbook. It’s an event in the Merce Cunningham sense of combining old pieces in a new order for a new occasion and space.
The “unfinished” deal with titles and texts is a view of the continuity of a choreographer’s life. For Ms. Tanowitz, the distinction between works is possibly less important than their common origin as filament that she and her employees keep turning. “It’s never finished for me,” she says, referring to each piece, but also the process and practice of dancing. At the moment, the humility of testifying is a sign of hope.
But if their work is one piece to them, that doesn’t mean the pieces are all the same. The first, “Gray, No. 2”, which is set on a Caroline Shaw score, which is itself a revision of a Chopin mazurka, is a highly ordered composition for four people that quietly absorbs in its changing configurations, with a dancer often swings to a new position The whole group moves. The work resists the buoyancy, a feeling of weight or fatigue, which the dancers eventually no longer resist and sink to the ground.
However, this is not the end of the program. Because the much wilder and fragmented “Finally unfinished” begins when a camera follows Melissa Toogood’s cool fire into the wings. Soon enough the dancers – seven of them now – will be walking into the aisles, seats and the balcony. And this theater, which was dark and empty for most of this year, is enlivened by elegant, eccentric, brilliant dance.
This is Joyce’s second experiment in live streaming. (The first, in which seven dancers at a time recorded Molissa Fenley’s grueling solo “State of Darkness,” was in October, and recordings are available until January 10th.) Not everything that distinguishes itself as cinematography is less of a work for the camera as a substitute for being in the theater. In fact, it is a love letter to what Joyce was and should become again.
In the score for “Endlich unfinished”, which lies between confusing and loud contributions by Dan Siegler and Ted Hearne, there is a recording of the stage manager’s instructions (“Go, Victor!”) And announcements during a Pam Tanowitz dance performance in 2014 at Joyce . (“Please turn off your electronic devices” is poignant when you hear about an electronic device that gives you the only access to the factory.)
The costumes that Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung designed for previous Tanowitz plays at Joyce are also related to the theater, reproducing the red curtain, chair upholstery, and less stylish carpeting. It’s all loving mockery that pokes fun at the Joyce’s frumpiness while respecting her story as an essential home for dance: the tactile, personal experience for which this digital version is a placeholder.
At the end of the performance, the dancers look out onto the stage from their seats to represent the missing audience. This captures in a picture what “Finally unfinished, Part 2” says in words: “This is not the end. Return to learn more. “
Pam Tanowitz dance
Available until December 26th, joyce.org.