Past, Present, Future


DANCERS (Slightly Out of Shape) (AD, CC)

Choreographer Pam Tanowitz and her dancers return to rehearsal during 2020’s pandemic, captured by filmmaker Liz Sargent’s verité lens. Pam ponders the fleeting nature of performance and reimagines the future of her work on film.

AIRED: May 10, 2021 | 0:27:26



Woman: And action.

Does that mean I'm in charge?

You're always in charge. -[ Laughing ] No, I'm not.

No, it's good for us to not waste any time.

I don't like to waste anything.

And the other thing that I was thinking about

in regards to your question about warming up

or staying in shape.

Tanowitz: Mm-hmm.

I feel like I forgotten. [ Laughs ]

Really? What about your pilates?

No, like I remember the, like, the exercises

and like things like that.

It's more so like the routine of it all.

-Right. -It's like, where do you start?

Yeah. I mean, the routine of your whole life has changed.


I always want to make a disclaimer to the audience

and be like, listen, we've been quarantined, you know.

So should that be in my preshow announcement?

I think it should be.

That should be our marquee.

Dancers may be slightly out of shape.

We're doing our best.

[ Laughter ]

Doing our best, dancers.

That's all we can do is do our best.

No, but actually my feet,

I feel like that's what hardest,

because when we did our show in Philly.


I forgot to point my feet.

But it's also like because there's no logo on it.

Even if you're taking, like, you can't travel.

If you're taking class on Zoom, do you think you're being good?

It's like that -- Like when it's time to move.

Like for me, my legs are like, wait, what?

Not only are my feet out of shape,

like it's hard to point irrelevant to that,

but also the like relationship with the ground.

I've lost some connection to it.


The feeling of dancing barefoot

is very different now.

When I was younger, I wanted to be a detective.

When I grew up, I wanted to be

a fashion designer or a detective first.

So, I like to solve puzzles.

I have the concept and the idea of a dance,

but I haven't cracked the case is what I always say.

Where I place a step in the space

relates to the composition which relates to the structure.

Till I solve all those, nothing is set in stone.

What I say to myself is,

is this better than what I had yesterday or two days ago,

or is this better than the last rehearsal?

And then you do like baby steps

and just try to make it better and better every day.

Like, you know, how if we do the curtain half way,

and while I say ladies and gentlemen,

thank you for coming at the joys,

please turn off your email, Lindsay could be dancing.

Do you think they'll let me do that or now?

[ Laughter ]

No, they could just be standing there

because we'll see their feet standing there.

Do you think that's a good idea or is it too crazy?

They'll be mad at me.

Maybe I better keep it simple.

-They're planning on putting it, -I know, I know.

Sorry I couldn't talk. No, no, I know what you're saying so.

I think I'll make them go crazy.

I don't want to make them go crazy.

My teacher, Viola, who's my mentor,

she said, like, you would make --

So if you made a dance in three months,

that would be the dance that you would make.

But if you had a year to make that same dance,

that would be a different dance.

Things start and end because you have to perform it,

but you could still work on it forever and ever.

Everything that I've made,

it's part -- triggers the next thing that I make.

So that's part of why I always carry material with me as I go.

We haven't used...

you're splice to and your list phrase.

That's like a million steps.

[ Laughs ]

And then we have your Jewish phrase.

Do you remember that?

Yeah, I went over it.

You did what? What?

-I have a video of it. -Of her? Yeah.

[ Laughs ]

I forget, like, what the main parts are called.

It's okay.

[ Sighs ] It's just nice.

When we work together, there's so much freedom

as far as cutting up steps and reorganizing and whatever,

because the important part for you

is not so much necessarily the exact step

or how many times or like the height

or not the jump or whatever.

-Right. -Not yet.

-Not yet. -First, it's the picture.

Tanowitz: And then once we -- once things

are organized, then I care.

Then I go, okay, how many times are you doing that?

Are you pointing or flexing your foot?

Are you -- how high is that leg?

Do I care how high that leg is or not?


Arms. Yeah.

When I come into the studio, I really try to do like --

I try to go at it in different ways.

As far as concept, I don't have a method.

It could be a piece of music, it could be an idea.

could be something I've read or something that's inspired me.

Right, so then hip circle to the end.

And so how does yours end?

Right, okay.

And then you're supposed to go into mine, which go...

Right, but we could just do...

You're already here,

so we could stay facing this way

and do this this way.

Jump, jump, jump back, repeat mine.

Man: As far as like content and structure,

it's always different from piece to piece.

But making -- like generating with you

is very similar in each project, like, which tends to be

just basically a lot of cutting up ideas and steps

and repiecing together and going back also

and making space and things

that maybe already were decided that that's how it'll be.

But you're always adding more or like taking out.

Right or taking away.

Nothing's ever permanent for you,

which is really cool.

The material like the steps, the so-called content

of a piece, you know, the steps could be similar.

But my really, like, my relationship to them

at that moment in time is different.

When you are thinking of,

like, starting from scratch on your own,

I know you you read a lo.

I know you like to draw too when thinking about your pieces.

I mean, oftentimes you like hand us a piece of paper

it has like scribbles on it or like Xs...

Scribbles. It's not really drawing.

...and things like that.

So when you're, like, starting from scratch on your own,

I guess, where do you see yourself,

like drawing inspiration from a lot.

I think I know.

I just never realized this till now,

but I know this sounds...

I think my inspiration is like to escape real life.

-Escape? -Yeah.

When I think about choreography,

it's me not thinking about the rest of my life.

I think when I think about choreography,

I think it's me not --

When I make dances, I can do whatever I want,

and I can't do that in real life.

So I'm not really sure what that means, but...

[ Thud in background ]

Man: Sorry about that.

-Okay, yeah, I have to --

That's going to be TTD, 'cause what do you have after that?

Okay. Rest. You can rest.

And what happened over the next three...

[Indistinct conversation]

One of my favorite things when I watch a dance

and I hope my dances have that when I see dance where you can,

like, feel the work that was put in it in the studio.

Like, so you see you a dance on stage,

but you can feel all the hours and hours of work,

how it was made in the studio.

Like, it's like you can feel the deepness of it.

That it was worked and reworked and the dancers know

their material and it feels thick.

The reason why there's a an easiness to it,

like, you're not -- you're not watching...

I like tension and I like an easiness

and a matter of fact kind of presentation.

But under the reason why it works

is because underneath it

there's a -- we've been working on the material for a year,

you know, for example, or six months.

So it's not that it was done quickly.

There's still concepts and thought in it.

Well, I think, like, making dance is humiliating.

You know, me making something --

Making something out of nothing,

you know, is really hard and it can be, uh,

yeah, humiliating.




Good, that's good.




Okay, good.

I think it's like people I want to spend time with.

Woman: I've never gotten a job from an audition.

So that's how I pick dancers --

people who I want to spend time with

who I think are interesting, collaborative, smart.


[ Laughter ]

[ Blows ]

That's cool, because I feel like there's not a lot

of choreographer's that are like that.

Like, honestly, that really enjoy people.

[ Laughs ] You know what I'm saying? That's interesting.

Yeah, I feel that.

I mean, I haven't been working with you for very long,

but I can definitely sense that,

that you really care about people,

and it's nice.

It's like there's like a certain level of trust that you feel.

Like, I think often, as dancers we, like,

push ourselves very hard.

And I feel like Pam trust that that's going to be there,

And so she kind of allows this sense of comfort.

Yeah, it's just a nice environment to be in.

And it's not always that way, so I'm happy to be working

with Pam and everybody.

It's a lot of fun.

Director: Really quick. We've already ruined this.

Ruined what everybody's talking about

because I ask the question, but so.

-What's the rule? -Who are we talking to?

Well, because I think --

Like as if you're rather talking to camera or you're not.

Pam: Oh. And I think you're talking to each other.

Oh, I was looking at the camera.

[ Laughs ]

[ Indistinct conversations ]

Liz, do we know that's really bad?

Liz: [ Indistinct talking ]

Because it's the feeling of who the viewer is.

-That's a great rule. -I think that's fine.

No, I think it's fine, because also if we break

the fourth wall, we know we're making a documentary.

So, do you know what I mean?

I'm talking to you, and this is going to

be in the movie.

We don't have -- we don't have to be so strict with our rules.

-You either do it or you don't. -Right.

We can do it and then we can do it,

we can not do it and then do it, and not...

You can't have both is what you're saying.

I hate rules, Liz.

Director: Haphazard, but your work is very, very clean, right?

Yeah, but there's not that many rules.

It's a lot of rules if she can completely ignore them.

I always -- when I made rules, I always don't lis--

Like, yeah, it's true.

Let's just see what we have.

[ Laughter ]

And we'll go from there.

Why do you keep moving?

I don't know. I don't want to be on camera anymore.

Go back to them.

Stop asking me questions and bossing me around.

[ Laughter ]

Okay, go to them.

What do you think about the permanence of it all?

Well, that's the scary part, is that dance,

you know dance goes away

and you can just recreate -- you can recreate it

and you can constantly fix it and tinker,

and film is like that's what happened.

But at the same time, that's what's also great,

is that it's a documentation or a marker of the time

that you made that thing,

and you just have to live with it.

[ Laughs ] I think.

Even if you're humiliated. [ Laughs ]









[Indistinct talking ]










People don't really remember anything,

but actually what we're living in

is the abolition of forgetting.

And the ability to forget is actually part

of what makes us human.

[Speaking in reverse, indistinct speaking ]









Do you listen to the earth?

Pam: Yes, I was just about to say that to you.

Are you -- are we good?

[ Laughter ]

We can't be doing this all day, Liz.

It feels good.

I mean, I feel like it was -- I feel like it's good.

Like, are we done?

Are we done with our documentary yet?


I'm going to go get the other dancers.








[Indistinct talking ]



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