Tami Stronach’s recent season at Dance New Amsterdam was an enchanting example of what can happen when richly inventive choreography mingles with the perfect space. The introspective program, presented at DNA from September 19 through 22, was subtly enhanced by that theater’s unique look and intimate quality.
Stronach and her company, Tami Stronach Dance, presented three works, the first of which—Me and Not Me—was a world premiere. The piece has been some time in the making. Stronach has been developing it since about 2009, and she has shown versions of it at DNA and the American Dance Festival along the way. Here, in its finished form, Me and Not Me managed to appear both entirely natural and meticulously constructed. I was wrapped around Stronach’s finger—I laughed at her easily executed comedy but never lost sight of the darker threads running through the work.
The duet is performed by Stronach and Lindsey Dietz-Marchant, who draw us into a world of shredded yellow flowers. Set to Jane Shaw’s score of clinking bike gears, the piece begins with Dietz-Marchant on stage alone, rolling, sliding, and curling on the floor. Her supple fluidity often creates the sense that there are no sharp edges or hard surfaces to her body, and yet the dynamic quality of her movement made clear that she can also be sharp and angular. DNA’s exposed wood floors and pillars lining the sides of the stage serve Stronach’s creation well: the space looks more like the inside of home than a theater, and it made me feel as if I were peering through a window into a private moment.
When Stronach enters and begins to dance, Dietz-Marchant hops on a child’s bike and starts to ride in circles around the space. Then she picks up baskets of yellow flowers, haphazardly throwing handfuls in the air while wobbling along on the bike. This, and later images of Dietz-Marchant shredding flowers in the bike’s tires, are as hilarious as they are tragic. It’s slapstick comedy at its finest, but there’s also something heartbreaking about seeing this insistent childishness in a grown woman.
Stronach has little patience for Dietz-Marchant’s antics, frequently lunging in to stop the bike tire from decapitating flowers. These physical altercations give way to tender partnering, which displays intimacy and care alongside visible frustration. These two dancers might be part of one whole. Dietz-Marchant clings desperately to nostalgia, and Stronach soldiers heedlessly forward. So who wins? Neither. In the last moments of the work, after Stronach has performed a striking solo full of soaring springs and falls, Dietz-Marchant re-enters wearing the bike like a belt around her hips. As she crawls along the floor, slowly gliding on the bike’s wheels, Stronach watches from the back of the stage, carefully creeping along with her: watching, but not interrupting.
The second work on the program, Mother Tongue, also boasted a nuanced performance by Dietz-Marchant. The solo premiered in 2002, but this revised version includes new video design by David Tirosh. Stronach spent her early years in Iran, where her parents were archaeologists. Old footage of their dig sites was an original component of the piece, but Tirosh reworked the video so that some of its scenes play out in the abstracted shape of a dancer’s body. Movement provides a lens through which we see into Stronach’s past.
Dietz-Marchant’s dancing seeps with longing as she reaches through the space, grasping for something that seems just beyond her fingertips. Every now and then, she pauses, as if listening to a sound far off in the distance. The score, compiled by Stronach and Dietz-Marchant, uses original sounds from the videos. At times, it is minimal, featuring the clicks and whirs of a camera, and at others, it explodes with song and speech. Dietz-Marchant dazzles with her voluptuous yet crystalline style, plunging through the space in grand lunges and turns that give way to gesture. In a memorable moment, she sways from side to side, nodding her head and waving her arms in the air as if conducting an invisible orchestra. Her eyebrows are raised, eyes half-closed, struggling to find the silent song.
In the end, it appears that Dietz-Marchant has found at least a part of what she has been searching for. The video expands to fill the screen, portraying the dusky silhouettes of a group of people, projected at life size. Dietz-Marchant slows her movement and crouches to the floor, as if settling into the frame. She becomes a part of that obscure history.
The final work of the evening was Closer, a work in progress danced by Dietz-Marchant, Denisa Musilova, and Darrin Wright. Closer features live video footage, which is manipulated and projected directly onto the back wall of the theater. The three dancers move in and out of solos, duets, and rare trios, and seem genuinely playful and at ease with one another.
Again, Stronach makes masterful use of DNA’s space. Because the theater is also used as a classroom, the stage left wall is covered in mirrors. The most memorable moment of the piece arrives when Dietz-Marchant picks up a camera and points it at Wright and Musilova as they dance in front of the mirror. In the projection, we see Wright and Musilova as well as their reflections in the mirror, effectively creating a quartet. I longed for more moments like this in the piece, but it is, after all, a work in progress.
I left the theater feeling exhilarated. There’s something about Stronach’s work that makes you want to get up and dance with her, and follow the arcs she creates with bodies on stage. It’s a pleasure to see the world as she does—full of power, tenderness, and lyricism, punctuated with a few quirks along the way.
GARNET HENDERSON is a writer, dancer, and choreographer based in Manhattan.