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‘DANCERS (Slightly Out of Shape)’ gives glimpse into Pam Tanowitz’s creative process

Victor Lozano in 'Dancers (Slightly Out of Shape)'.
Victor Lozano in 'Dancers (Slightly Out of Shape)'.

The Fisher Center at Bard announces DANCERS (Slightly Out of Shape), a film by Liz Sargent documenting choreographer Pam Tanowitz and her dancers’ return to rehearsal in 2020 during the pandemic, which will be screened as part of ALL ARTS’ inaugural dance film festival, Past, Present, Future

From 'Dancers (Slightly Out of Shape)'.
From ‘Dancers (Slightly Out of Shape)’.

Through her verité lens, Sargent offers a never-before-seen glimpse into Tanowitz’s creative process, as the choreographer ponders the fleeting nature of performance and reimagines the future of her work on film. The finale offers excerpts from Sargent and Tanowitz’s upcoming dance film, Every Moment Alters (with music by Caroline Shaw). DANCERS (Slightly Out of Shape) premieres on the ALL ARTS TV channel (channel lineup) on May 10, at 8pm ET, when it will also become available to audiences nationwide, with accessibility features including closed captions and audio descriptions, on the ALL ARTS app and allarts.org.

Produced by Cyprian Films, New York in association with the Fisher Center at Bard (where Tanowitz is choreographer-in-residence) for ALL ARTS, DANCERS (Slightly Out of Shape) continues the Fisher Center’s engagement with Tanowitz’s work. I was waiting for the echo of a better day, her collaboration with composer Jessie Montgomery, will soon open Bard SummerScape 2021 with outdoor performances and live music (and marks Tanowitz’s return to SummerScape after the resounding success of her Four Quartets, a Fisher Center commission that premiered at the 2018 festival). 

Pam Tanowitz.
Pam Tanowitz.

More crucial than its physical location, the pandemic is established early on as the main setting for DANCERS (Slightly Out of Shape). As they warm up and stretch, dancers Victor Lozano and Brittany Engel-Adams talk to Tanowitz about how their relationship with their body during a year of quarantine and restricted movement has deteriorated. As Sargent’s observational lens captures rehearsals, viewers see dancers at a distance from each other, in the large, enclosed space of LMCC’s studio on Governor’s Island. The viewer is able to share in the feeling of a warm, collaborative atmosphere: Tanowitz’s communication with dancers is full of humor and a relaxed, creative focus.  Sargent also offers intimate access to moments in between rehearsal: snippets of conversation, dancers in moments of reflection between themselves and their body, and flurries of movement and laughter. Tanowitz responds to the camera’s female gaze with casual conversation with Sargent — or with dancers who ask her questions and discuss their process. 

DANCERS (Slightly Out of Shape) nods to the verité filmmaking of the late ‘60s, with jumps-cuts and black and white cinematography. The visual style of the film takes its lead from moments in between dance as the filmmaker leaves intact the beats in between shots, which are usually edited out — a lens adjustment, or a tripod being picked up and moved. This tactile style creates an immediacy and informality as we feel the filmmaker’s presence and communication with Tanowitz. After the raw, black and white vision of rehearsal, the film stylistically shifts in a finale revealing pieces of Every Moment Alters, with its precise, evocative choreography seen through polished, cinematic filmmaking. 

Lindsey Jones and Melissa Toogood in 'Dancers (Slightly Out of Shape)'.
Lindsey Jones and Melissa Toogood
in ‘Dancers (Slightly Out of Shape)’.

Says Sargent, “The cinematic treatment feels so complimentary to Pam’s process as a choreographer. We based the style and approach off of Pam’s love for French New Wave with a casual style that feels so true to the energy in her rehearsal space. We also wanted to let Pam discuss dance-making in her terms rather than the often invasive or conventional questioning that occurs in many artist documentaries. This approach allows the audience to be witnesses rather than students to didactic explanations — giving agency to experience the choreography in terms of composition and intuition.”

The full Past, Present, Future dance film festival runs May 9-11, and also features films from choreographer Kyle Abraham and filmmaker Dehanza Rogers (If We Were a Love Song, May 9, at 8pm ET) and ensemble Kinetic Light and filmmaker Katherine Helen Fisher (One + One Make Three, May 11, at 8pm ET). For this festival, ALL ARTS is providing a combination of accessibility features with audio descriptions for blind and low vision audiences, open and closed captions and one film with American Sign Language interpreters for Deaf and hard of hearing audiences. Social media elements have also been created with increased accessibility such as photo descriptions for blind and low vision audiences.

For more, visit allarts.org/everywhere

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