Tag Archives: Pam Tanowitz

6 Things You Should Know about the Director’s Choice Choreographers

By Pei-San Brown,  Community Education Director

Director’s Choice 2016 is fast approaching and Artistic Director Stephen Mills is excited to introduce two extraordinary choreographic talents to local audiences, while presenting two of his favorite works. One of the most interesting aspects of Director’s Choice is the breadth of movement ideas and music used for the different pieces. Before you join us Valentine’s Day weekend, here are the top 6 things you need to know about our presenting choreographers.

1. Pontus Lidberg, the choreographer

Pontus Lidberg holds an MFA in Contemporary Performative Arts from the University of Gothenburg / Faculty of Fine, Applied and Performing Arts. He trained at the Royal Swedish Ballet School, and after graduating, he danced with The Royal Swedish Ballet, The Norwegian National Ballet, Le Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève, and The Göteborg Ballet.

Choreographer Pontus Lidberg. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.

Choreographer Pontus Lidberg. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert.

2. Pontus Lidberg, the filmmaker

Lidberg’s most recent dance film, Labyrinth Within (2011)—featuring former New York City Ballet principal dancer Wendy Whelan, and a score by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang—received the Court Métrange du Jury prize at the Court-Métrange Film Festival in Rennes, France (2011) and won Best Picture at the Dance on Camera Festival in New York (2012).

Pontus and Wendy, Photo by Adrian Danchig-Waring

Pontus and Wendy, Photo by Adrian Danchig-Waring

3. Pam Tanowitz, the Guggenheim Fellow

Pam Tanowitz holds an MFA in Dance from Sarah Lawrence College, where she was mentored by former Merce Cunningham principal dancer Viola Farber-Slayton. She received a 2009 Bessie Award for Be in the Gray With Me, was awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship in 2011, and was a 2013/14 Hodder Fellow at Princeton University.

Pam Tanowitz, Photo by Brad Paris

Pam Tanowitz, Photo by Brad Paris

4. Pam Tanowitz, the critic’s favorite

Pam is lauded by dance critics everywhere. Alastair Macaulay of the New York Times wrote in February 2014, “Some of the dance steps, phrases and constructions by the choreographer Pam Tanowitz are among the finest being made anywhere today. They feature memorable footwork, strikingly elegant and witty combinations of lower- and upper-body movement, and complex, subtle, fascinating uses of stage space. And yet she’s an eccentric… Much of her dance vocabulary is taken from ballet and from Merce Cunningham technique, both of which she employs in ways that should often impress devotees of either genre.”

Maggie Cloud and Melissa Toogood in Pam Tanowitz's Passagen at the Joyce Theater, Photo by Andrea Mohin

Maggie Cloud and Melissa Toogood in Pam Tanowitz’s Passagen at the Joyce Theater, Photo by Andrea Mohin

5. Stephen Mills, the musician-turned-dancer

Stephen Mills is a classically-trained musician who studied piano and composition at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. He took his first dance class at the age of 18, and went on to dance with The Harkness Ballet and The American Dance Machine in New York.

He revealed in a 2013 interview with ATX Man, “When I was 8, I had encephalitis, and I was in a brief coma. The fact that I was able to walk in the end was miraculous. So sports were not part of my life. When I went to college and I learned that I could use my body like this, it was a revelation… The second I stepped into the studio, I knew that was what I wanted to do.”

Stephen Mills, Photo by William Russell

Stephen Mills, Photo by William Russell

6. Stephen Mills, the award-winning dance maker

Stephen began his career at Ballet Austin as a dancer. He later became Resident Choreographer, and then eventually Artistic Director of the company. He was the choreographer chosen to represent the United States through his work, Ashes, at Les Rencontres Chorégraphiques Internationales de Seine-Saint-Denis in Paris (1998). His ballet, One / the body’s grace, was awarded the Steinberg Award, the top honor at Le Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur International Choreographic Competition. One of Stephen’s crowning achievements is the ballet Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project, which in 2006 was awarded the Audrey & Raymond Maislin Humanitarian Award by the Anti-Defamation League.

Ballet Austin's Stephen Mills in his work Ashes (1998). Photo by Lucia Uhl.

Ballet Austin’s Stephen Mills in his work Ashes (1998). Photo by Lucia Uhl.

Don’t miss your chance to see these extraordinary artists at their best for Director’s Choice!

Ballet Austin Company Dancer Shares What It’s Like Working With New Choreographers

By Oliver Greene-Cramer, Ballet Austin Company Dancer

Company dancers Christopher Swaim, Jaime Lynn Witts and Oliver Greene-Cramer in the studio learning a new piece by Pam Tanowitz (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Company dancers Christopher Swaim, Jaime Lynn Witts and Oliver Greene-Cramer in the studio learning a new piece by Pam Tanowitz (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Working with a new choreographer is often a very rewarding experience for a dancer. We get pushed and inspired in new ways while working in the familiarity of our own studio. As with many companies, at Ballet Austin we have the pleasure of working with multiple guest choreographers during the season. This season being no exception, Pam Tanowitz and Pontus Lidberg will be setting work on us for the Director’s Choice performance in February.

There are many different ways that choreographers choose to work with the company. From playing games to get to know us all the way, to just setting already choreographed steps. It’s always interesting to work in new ways. Even if you don’t end up being featured in the piece there are still opportunities to discover something new in the audition.

Working With Pam Tanowitz

Choreographer Pam Tanowitz in the Ballet Austin studios (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Choreographer Pam Tanowitz in the Ballet Austin studios (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

One the most interesting processes came to us this week with Pam Tanowitz and her assistant Melissa Toogood. Based in New York, Pam is quite aesthetically similar to Merce Cunningham. Her almost pedestrian intention and love for chance echoes many of Cunningham’s methods. The piece that Pam set on us, Early that Summer, had already been created, but instead of merely giving us steps Pam wanted to work with us on changing and modifying the piece so it felt natural for our bodies. Both Pam and Melissa spoke to us about adhering to technical purity, while also fulfilling the steps in our own way. Any piece becomes far more interesting for the dancers with that kind of collaboration. Pam also spoke about how much she loves to discover new things in an old concept.

Another distinct aspect of this particular piece is that Pam didn’t choreograph to specific counts. Instead of adhering to a strict musicality, she instead encouraged the dancers to find the natural rhythm of the group, as well as our own individual movements. As a ballet company, this is a very foreign concept for many of us because so much of what we do is very defined with unison and formations. While being scary at points, it is very exciting and liberating to find such freedom, as well as making personal choices.

Limited Studio Time

Pam Tanowitz sets choreography for upcoming debut in Director's Choice. Company Dancers Christopher Swaim and Oliver Greene-Cramer pictured. (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Pam Tanowitz sets choreography for upcoming debut in Director’s Choice. Company Dancers Christopher Swaim and Oliver Greene-Cramer pictured. (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

In the case of Pam we only had one week to put this piece together, and for most guest choreographers we only have a few weeks. Regardless of how brief the process is, it is really wonderful to connect with the new work.

Next up is Pontus Lidberg who we work with for three weeks in October before Ballet Austin travels to Florida to perform Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project and before the fourteen performances of The Nutcracker.

We look forward to sharing all of these with you and hope you enjoy the works from Pam Tanowitz and Pontus Lidberg featured in Director’s Choice as much as we do.