Friday, February 23, 2018

Tatyana Tenenbaum's "Untitled Work for Voice"

Cast of Tatyana Tenenbaum's
Untitled Work for Voice
(photo: Liz Charky)
Choreographer/composer Tatyana Tenenbaum
performs in her work.
(photo: Simon Courchel)

I'm fairly sure I saw Shirley Temple's ghost at St. Mark's Church last night. Long, diaphanous curtains descended from the sanctuary's balcony and draped along the side risers. The faint, spectral image of Hollywood's tapdancing white child star shimmered over the sheer fabric and against the wall near the entrance. At least, I think it was Shirley, her spirit briefly hovering--a blessing? a warning?--before Tatyana Tenenbaum premiered a new, hour-long ensemble piece, Untitled Work for Voice, for Danspace Project.

As the title indicates, the work involves not only movement but vocalization and, indeed, blends the two so much that it becomes clear that, for Tenenbaum, one's entire body, not just one's vocal chords, speaks and sings. I've read an interview where she talks about having lived from the neck up, a way of being she connects to her Jewish heritage (self-described, in her program notes, as white and assimilated). Untitled Work for Voice might offer a series of fitful attempts to break through, not by circumventing her situation but by mining it for any tool that might serve her purpose.

We sometimes hear a single word pronounced as if by dissection: courage rendered as kohr-raj-geh. We watch dancers dryly launch jazz dance (sort of) movement phrases and halt them before the payoff. There are moments of call-and-response that seem, at once, meaninglessly secular; because we are trained to expect beauty and sacredness in this format, we hear sacred beauty. Three of the dancers carry out and rattle thunder sheets--a theatrical device to simulate an awesome force of nature in a place where it is not.

An auburn-haired apparition in a white gown dotted with green pompoms softly mewls and sings and turns and twists in the air. Who or what is she?

Sentences might fragment, or start and get rethought and reset: "We had a fight...no, it wasn't a fight. We had an argument." Each element seems like a desperate grasp or stab at something. And dancers confidently intone made-up lyrics to Glenn Miller's, "A String of Pearls," a World War II swing hit best known as an instrumental. The actual lyrics--I Googled this morning to check--are something else again.

Untitled Work for Voice--perhaps "untitled" because how to settle on something that might keep shifting?--did not seem to be building towards anywhere or anything. But--to my surprise and, admittedly, my relief-- it really did with a swirling, gradually expansive solo for dancing, singing Jules Skloot.

Breakthrough.

Created and performed by Marisa Clementi, Pareena Lim, Emily Moore, Skloot and Tenenbaum
Costume design: Claire Fleury
Lighting design: Kathy Kaufmann

Untitled Work for Voice continues tonight and Saturday with performances at 8pm. There is no late seating. For information and tickets, click here.

Danspace Project
St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery
131 East 10th Street (off Second Avenue), Manhattan
(map/directions)

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