Bach, played Live, Merges with Contemporary Dance

Upper Valley favorite returns with a new project

Two great artists collaboratively interpret a Bach masterpiece in New Work for Goldberg Variations, coming Friday and Saturday, January 11 and 12, 8 pm, to The Moore Theater of the Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth College.

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The work brings together the gifted and original pianist Simone Dinnerstein and choreographer Pam Tanowitz (who just topped the New York Times "Best Dance of 2018" list), whose company Pam Tanowitz Dance is known for dance that is distinctly modern while infused with ballet and a playful, musical spirit.

Together, they reimagine Bach’s Goldberg Variations, a set of 30 different variations on a musical theme that presents the performer with a monumental artistic challenge, requiring not only prodigious technical skill, but also the emotional sensitivity to interpret the delicate nuances of mood and demeanor that give each variation its distinct character. Dinnerstein is a renowned interpreter of the Variations, having first attracted attention in the music world in 2007 with her self-produced recording of the Variations that top music charts and prestigious “best of the year” lists. More recently, she has been collaborating with the Boston-based chamber orchestra A Far Cry on a version of Goldberg for piano and strings (she next performs this version in February in Worcester, MA.) Dinnerstein is an Upper Valley favorite, having played numerous times at Randolph's Chandler Center for the Arts (where she will play this May).

Below, Simone and Pam talk about developing the work:

The work captivates from the start. From a totally darkened stage, the first notes of Goldberg are heard, and a pinpoint spot illuminates Dinnerstein at the piano at center stage, in black, her feet bare. As if conjured by the piano’s exquisite passages, dancers appear on the stage. Dancers and pianist lead the audience through an experience that is both piano concert and dance performance, with neither compromising the other, and with luminous costumes and spectacular lighting emphasizing the bold staging.

The work has become a favorite since it debuted in 2017. Wrote Indy Week, "Bach’s score is a well-known thing, but here it is a living, breathing thing. Dinnerstein, who has been playing Goldberg for years, treats it generously, giving each note a world unto itself. Through these seven dancers, Tanowitz’s choreography devises its own language, idiosyncratic yet entirely consistent. Gestures live on the cusp of familiarity, and the brilliantly differentiated cast is indefatigable in following the movement to its never-ends." Wrote Classical Voice of North Carolina, "When the music came back around to its initial theme, the musician was closely encircled by the dancers, the sense of wholeness and completion was so beautiful that it brought tears of joy. If I were giving out stars, this would be a 10-star event."

The New York Times called it “spontaneous, serendipitous… a riveting dialogue of movement and music.” Wrote the Boston Globe: Tanowitz’s choreography “is a reverent homage, with its formal gestures of invocation and supplication, but it’s also quirky and spontaneous and playful. … there are children’s marches, games, the odd solo, groups forming and re-forming. Whimsy abounds … It’s all fluid, from the dancers’ unobtrusive entrances and exits to ballet quotations.”

The Goldberg Variations became Dinnerstein’s international calling card when she released her recording of the work on Telarc in 2007, a only two years after her New York debut. Her recording ranked No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Classical Chart in its first week of sales and was named to many “Best of 2007” lists including those of The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The New Yorker. Wrote O, The Oprah Magazine, “If you only have 1 hour, 18 minutes: Listen to pianist Simone Dinnerstein’s recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations (Telarc), a timeless, meditative, utterly audacious solo debut.”

Below, Simone talks about the Goldberg Variations in this 2007 video:

New Goldberg had its beginnings in 2015. Interested in collaborating with a leading choreographer to develop an evening-length work, Dinnerstein sought out Tanowitz, whose work had recently been named by The New York Times as one of the highlights of 2014. Discussing possible music choices, Dinnerstein proposed Goldberg. Tanowitz hesitated, having great respect for for Jerome Robbins’ landmark 1971 ballet set to that work. Dinnerstein spoke about overcoming her own hesitation about creating her own interpretation of this masterwork, so indelibly imprinted by Glenn Gould and other great pianists. Inspired, Tanowitz recalled something her mentor Cunningham would say: “The only way to do it is to do it.” Thus, New Work for Goldberg Variations was launched.

As part of the artists’ Hop residency, Pam Tanowitz Dance company members Lindsey Jones and Christine Flores will offer an introductory workshop to Tanowitz’s work exploring her creative process and selections
from the company’s repertory, on Saturday Jan 12, 12 to 1:30 pm, in Straus Dance Studio, Berry Sports Complex. Admission is $10.

Also, Dartmouth dance instructor and renowned choreographer John Heginbotham explores the work of Tanowitz and Dinnerstein in a free pre-show talk, Friday, January 11, 7 to 7:45 pm, in the
Top of the Hop.

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