ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. — “Kiss me.” No sooner has the biblical Song of Songs begun than the speaker is making a transfer. For scripture, the poem is fairly salacious, which is one purpose it has impressed many interpretations.
The newest is “Song of Songs,” a dance-theater work by the choreographer Pam Tanowitz and the composer David Lang, which had its debut at the Fisher Center at Bard College on Friday. It is a refined, restrained and typically breathtakingly lovely response to the poem. There isn’t any kissing in it, and spirituality is simply a suggestion. Instead, the beloved right here is magnificence.
Tanowitz’s final theatrical manufacturing at the Fisher Center, the place she is resident choreographer, was the extremely acclaimed “Four Quartets.” That work revolved round the recitation of a tough T.S. Eliot poem. Now the time of singing has come. “Song of Songs” begins with voices in tight concord: Lang’s 2014 composition “Just (After Song of Songs).”
“Just your voice,” they sing, “just your throat,” itemizing the lover’s attributes with repeated chords. This alternates with two different motifs, one beginning with “And my” (breasts, beloved), the different with “our” (home, laughter). Lang’s composition, including cello, viola and percussion, is a sort of evaluation of the biblical textual content, pulling phrases that start with possessive pronouns. The repetition and itemizing are formal but in addition appetitive: Just this is able to be sufficient, and likewise this and this. The rhythm is processional, with almost as a lot silence as sound, and the voices open and increase on each “our.”
Tanowitz’s choreography treats each the textual content and the music with comparable obliqueness. It begins with a solo, Maile Okamura dancing round the set, which is reminiscent of a sublime lodge foyer: strip curtains outlining an open space with lengthy, low benches and a round platform. (Production design is credited collectively to Tanowitz, Clifton Taylor and the costume designers Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung.)
When one other dancer arrives (Melissa Toogood), the two don’t behave like lovers, besides to circle one another in agitation. At most, they press palms. When extra dancers seem, additionally they contact fingers with Okamura, dashing previous her, one after the different, expressing avidity via repetition. The feeling is echoed in later sections, as the feminine dancers are lifted off the platform, one after the other, by two males, as over a turnstile.
This will not be a dance a couple of single pair, although at moments it looks as if it could be. When the work strikes into the first of three new compositions by Lang, a extra simple setting of the part of the poem beginning “I slept but my heart was awake” — the singing all through, by Sarah Brailey, Martha Cluver and Katie Geissinger, is gorgeously clear — Toogood seems to be seen after which pursued by Zachary Gonder. Together, they gambol like the stags in the poem. But they don’t seem to be alone for lengthy, as others quickly collect to witness.
The emphasis is on the group, the group. The impeccable, unaffected dancers are seven in quantity, in order that even after they all pair off, somebody is disregarded. Toogood, fluttering and falling (as she typically does in Tanowitz dances), provides the strongest impression of being “sick with love,” as the poem places it, nevertheless it’s indicative of Tanowitz’s perspective on love right here that when Toogood jumps into Gonder’s arms, she almost jumps via or previous them. Unlike the historic poem, nonetheless arrestingly direct, this can be a work that dances round sensual love.
That’s half of its magnificence. Even when the dancers contact, they appear to take care of a classical distance. They do quite a bit of watching. Some of their poses may derive from classical artwork, however extra broadly, the work is classical in tone — lucid, legible in the method of Merce Cunningham. The bursts of tough, ingenious steps and coordinations are additionally Cunninghamesque. These are balanced by easy folk-dance patterns, and Tanowitz has stated her “Song of Songs” is a “Jewish dance,” nevertheless it’s Jewish in the sense that Jerome Robbins’s “Dances at a Gathering” is. (Which is to say, not clearly; Robbins was Jewish, as are Tanowitz and Lang.)
As normal, Tanowitz is masterly in her use of area, each invoking and destabilizing the thought of foreground and background, a trio at the rear no roughly essential than a solo or duet in entrance. The curtains (extra of which ultimately decrease to cowl the again aircraft) give her a periphery to activate and likewise, as a result of of the strips, a permeable border for dancers’ limbs to penetrate.
The closest the dance involves a kiss is at finish of a music itemizing sensual experiences of the beloved (“I can see you,” “I can taste you”). Toogood and Victor Lozano are nose to nose, however somewhat than touching lips, they flip to look at Brian Lawson tilt right into a curtain, upheld at an unstable angle by dancers on the different aspect. Whether that’s a picture of human or divine love is left unsettled.
When the dance lastly goes into an prolonged duet sequence, the duets are in relay or “La Ronde” type, one dancer tagging out one other. This is the one part with out phrases, with out music. It comes as no shock, after this, that the conclusion is collective, all the dancers drifting as one, posing collectively on the platform. This response to the poem isn’t a music of the self or a pair. The angle of Tanowitz and Lang appears to be: “They’re playing our song.”
Song of Songs
Performed July 1-3 at the Fisher Center at Bard College.