“There is only the dance” T.S. Eliot wrote in 1936 in “Burnt Norton,” the first poem in his seminal late work, Four Quartets. Yet there has only been an actual dance set to this quartet since 2018, when choreographer Pam Tanowitz became the first person granted permission by the Eliot estate to choreograph to the text. The resulting work had its NYC premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last week. The Four Quartets really speak to dance lovers, as was evidenced by the large crowd of balletomanes at BAM. (I confess they among my favorite poems.) Dramaturge Gideon Lester explains in the program, “the poems themselves . . . are shot through with dancing and dancers.” He notes how Martha Graham and other choreographers were fans. But Tanowitz did the honors, and her career-long interrogation of the language of dance made her an ideal interpreter of these verses. Her expansive treatment, which cannily roped in painter Brice Marden’s images, Kaaijo Saariaho’s music, Clifton Taylor’s lighting and set design, Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung’s costumes, and Jean-Baptiste Barriere’s sound design, is a monumental achievement.
Pam Tanowitz Dance perform “Four Quartets.” Text by T.S. Eliot, choreography by Pam Tanowitz. Photograph by Julieta Cervantes