Published on May 28, 2013
Ian Douglas

The Spectators at New York Live Arts

May 16, 2013
Choreography: Pam Tanowitz
Performers: Andrew Champlin, Maggie Cloud, Dylan Crossman, Pierre Guilbault, Sarah Haarmann, and Melissa Toogood
Music: Spectators (Part 1) by Dan Siegler; Spectators (Part 2) by Annie Gosfield, Lightheaded and Heavy and The Harmony of the Body-Machine
Music Performance: The FLUX Quartet; Costumes: Renée Kurz; Lighting Design: Davison Scandrett

Pam Tanowitz treats each physical action as a prized jewel, carving and polishing it to a high gloss. Embracing a formalist approach, The Spectators, a new work commissioned by New York Live Arts, features three men and three women performing steps from the classical ballet syllabus grounded in a contemporary sensibility. All sharp angles and crisp edges — knees jut, hips hinge, torsos tilt, and arms trace perfectly calibrated shapes — the dancers appear like impeccably resolved mathematical equations. The stage markings of quarter and center, taped here with brightly hued, glow-in-the-dark strips, accentuate the spatial pathways the performers shear across the floor. Merce Cunningham’s influence is unmistakable.

Pam Tanowitz's The Spectators at New York Live Arts Photo © Ian Douglas


The work, while firmly rooted in tradition, also revels in a postmodern experimentalism. Tanowitz disregards customary stage boundaries; dancers perform in the wings (devoid of curtains so we can see the action) and stroke the upstage wall. Lights flicker on and off as dancers restart and reprise movement phrases.


While physical autonomy dominates, the cast, clad in form fitting costumes of subdued shades, exhibits a tender interest in each other. When Maggie Cloud executes a solo of academic arabesques mingled with boisterous stomps, the group — arrayed in positions reminiscent of Greek statues — taps along with her. The climax of The Spectators is a romantic duet between Melissa Toogood and Dylan Crossman. Crossman catches Toogood’s foot in an arabesque and gently brushes the hair out of her face before they share an affectionate kiss. 


Pam Tanowitz's The Spectators at New York Live Arts Photo © Ian Douglas


The musical score offers emotional heft. The first section, composed by Dan Siegler is a patchwork of showy brass, plaintive piano, and electronic sounds, while the second, crafted by Annie Gosfield and played live by The FLUX Quartet, is angular and vigorous. Teeming with rousing dynamics, both scores match the dancers’ virtuosity with athletic rhythms and bounding melodies.


With unflagging focus and care, the six performers manifest Tanowitz’s meticulously sculpted vocabulary. Tossing off sprightly pirouettes and sustaining long leg extensions, the dancers execute extravagant physical feats. In one such effort, a quintet leaps into the air, their limbs extended like a fan, before landing, extending one leg behind them, as the seconds tick by. They repeat this action again flawlessly, and we marvel.


Pam Tanowitz's The Spectators at New York Live Arts Photo © Ian Douglas


A watchful quality permeates The Spectators. Performers — eyes alert and bodies still —observe their colleagues dancing. Sometimes, they look for protracted moments into the audience, turning us, the natural spectators, into co-conspirators. This shared vigilance transforms The Spectators from a performance into a communion.

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