Some dancers move as if their bones and joints were flexible wires, driven by a ticking inner power source. Others respond to invisible forces—interior or exterior siroccos—tumbling them this way and that. Paz Tanjuaquio and Allyson Green have distinctive presences and styles that fall between these extremes. Arresting performers, they project serenity, gentleness, and thoughtfulness that are in no way bland. Bursts of swiftness sometimes propel them into leaps, but not the photo-op soarings we see on the ballet stage; they’re low and easy, rebounding as if the floor were suddenly resilient. When these dancers lift one leg into the air, they’re not unfurling a flag, but testing equilibrium or recovering from temporary imbalance. Their choreographic patterns and the shapes their bodies form are clear without being emphatic.
In different ways, these two choreographers are concerned with landscape. Not surprising. Tanjuaquio has in recent years been involved with projects in Asia. Green has worked extensively in Eastern Europe and left New York a few years ago to teach at the University of California at San Diego. They perform as if seeing into great distances. Tanjuaquio wheels her straight arms like weather vanes. One memorable gesture recurs in Green’s work: She lifts her arms to the sides, squared off, palms forward, the way you might if surrendering to cops, but cranes her neck slightly forward; she might be looking out a window, listening for a sound, or pushing a thought behind her.Collaborators provide virtual landscapes for both. Tanjuaquio has been working closely with composer and visual designer Todd Richmond since they founded Topaz Arts, Inc. in 1990. Mark Simpson’s red wash and borders and regions of white light are a vital component of her To Be: ‘Etre’, the third part of Thunder. In at least one recent piece by Green and in her new duet Abandon, artist Peter Terezakis’s light installations play a vital role. Tom Ontveros’s video projections and original lighting designs (recreated at these performances by Carol Mullins) grace the also new Full Circle.
In pointing out qualities and ideas that the two choreographers have in common, I’m not implying that they aren’t distinctive as artists and people. For one thing, Tanjuaquio is small, trim, and dark, Green fair and extremely slender. In terms of these concerts, emotionally loaded gestures and actions crop up in Green’s dances; Tanjuaquio is cooler—both in her choreography and her own presence. The four women in her The Soundless Music By Yoko Ono Choreographed by Paz Tanjuaquio (presented as a preview) rarely touch, while Green’s dancers, especially the guesting members of the Tijuana company Lux Boreal Contemporanea Danza, for whom she created Nada Que Declarar (but everything to say), push and slide their way into sometimes intimate contact.
The ongoingness of Tanjuaquio’s solo work reminds me of Molissa Fenley, whose choreography she has performed. The first and third parts of Thunder are like journeys that rarely pause, even though they revisit the same movements and points in space. The second part, a film made during Richmond and Tanjuaquio’s 2004 residency in Cambodia, reveals links between her luminous composure and that of the lovely young traditional dancer with whom she exchanges steps. Their tranquillity is curiously at odds with Richmond’s rapid cutting rhythms between views of dancing and sights along the Mekong. And, performing in the first part of the dance against the film Unter der Mittleren Brücke by Richmond and Brian Dean Richmond, Tanjuaquio seems almost still compared to the flurry of enigmatic, blurred black-and-white (more blue than black) images of the moon, clouds, water, a bridge, wheeling lights, etc. competing for our attention.
The text that apparently accompanied earlier performances of Thunder has vanished, nor is one inspiration, Tristan Tzara’s Dada Manifesto of 1918, manifest in the work, except in terms of the blending of possibly contrary visions and dynamics. Yoko Ono’s text plays no obvious role in her new piece, for which Richmond’s marvelous film creates the illusion of the corner of a room, or an open book, on the flat black wall. The images, accompanied by his spare music, are of landscapes—sometimes populated by the dancers in the work. Metal structures such as wrought iron balconies, elevators, the Perisphere from the 1939 World’s Fair, and the Eiffel Tower elegantly offset the unhurried onstage forays of Lynn Huang, Chia Ying Kao, Uta Takemura, and Tanjuaquio into unison, pairings, and a brief solo for Takemura. They’re like voyagers but also like sentinels. In the end the filmed images are replaced by their swaying shadows.
The landscape that backs Green’s Abandon is a video involving Terezakis’s installations in the Sonoran Desert. Shot from diverse angles at dusk and nightime hours, the slender light columns dotting the terrain illuminate or go dark on individual schedules. Green spends a lot of time watching the scenes projected on a huge sheet of suspended fabric, as if she’s dreaming them. Monica Bill Barnes—a marvel of rapid, fluently tumbling changes—enters Green’s dreamy space like a small whirlwind, as if trying to awaken Green and pull her into another world of motion. Green copies some of Barnes’s calmer moves, and the two dance facing one another, but, left alone, Green has her own concerns. What her arms shape, what her eyes see on the floor are mysteries, but performed with lovely clarity they stir our imagination.
Green offers a luxury: four musicians (Peter Bucknell, Felix Fan, Judith Ingolfsson, and Nurit Pacht) to play (barefoot!) the second and fourth movements of Beethoven’s String Quartet in F major, Op. 18, No. 1 for her Full Circle and Fan to interpret Bach’s Solo Cello Suite No. 6 in D Major for Nada. In between sections of both of these, the dancers help the musician(s) to move to new positions in the space, reconfiguring the terrain.
As Full Circle begins, the two women from Lux Boreal, garbed in long dark dresses by Paloma Young, stand apart from each other, rarely moving from the areas of dappled light that Mullins has pinned them in. They’re eloquent, these two—Azalea López at first echoing Briseida López’s gestures. They touch their faces, wreath their arms protectively around their own bodies. Tom Ontiveros’s projections (neatly fitted into the moldings on the church wall) sometimes show a lush foliage at poignant odds with their grief. Gradually, other black-clad women join—11 of them, a who’s who of downtown dance—to create a country in which sympathy and peacefulness engender joy. Some sit and watch when five of them (Carrie Ahern, Barnes, Eun Jung Gonzalez, Carolyn Hall, and Bronwen MacArthur) match Beethoven’s rich allegro with playful, spirited, full-bodied dancing.
In Nada, Hall perhaps stands for Green—the traveling choreographer who must adapt to any company for whom she makes a piece. For a long time, Hall waits with her back to the audience, while the members of Lux Boreal stand in a file before her, craning around one another to get a better view of her. Green builds this lineup into a skillful game, later repeating and varying the formation to chart Hall’s gradual assimilation (in the beginning someone, not unkindly, pushes her out of the way). To the ravishing Bach music and street sounds recorded in Tijuana and arranged by Alan Stone, Green mingles these fine and personable dancers in a variety of sequences, including two male-female duets. The two López women, plus Á Arámbula, David Mariano, Raul Navarro, and Henry Torres, may tussle or engage in vigorous yet easy-going ensemble dancing, but they’re always unsentimentally tender with one another—capable but vulnerable. It’s fascinating to watch the many ways in which Hall slips into their activities and then gets left behind or spun out, how they increasingly accept her and rely on her to complete their patterns.
The work of both Tanjuaquio and Green emerges from a world enmeshed in violence. The dancing they make, however abstract, offers a another model: moral, cooperative, peaceful.