*Four Quartets,* Feb 10, 2022
Jane and I saw *Four Quartets* at BAM on Feb 10, 2022. It's a dance piece inspired by *Four Quartets* by T. S. Eliot. The choreography is by Pam Tanowitz, the music is by Kaija Saariaho, the images are by Brice Marden, and the poem was performed by Kathleen Chalfant. One of the thrills of the performance was summed up neatly by Jane: “We were ensconced by an inspired full house audience, 100% masked!”
It was a whole lot going on, but never too much. There were times where there was a conflict of interest: should I be paying attention to the dance, the poem, the music, or the design? But the piece seemed to teach me how to experience it. Whenever I was approaching overload I decided to focus on one thing at a time or just let it all sink in and wash over me. There were a few moments where I was so engrossed in the music and/or the dancing that the poem seemed to become one with the music. It became sounds and the words became devoid of meaning.
Pam Tanowitz's choreography had elements of music - - it had repeated refrains and counterpoint between the dancers. Sometimes it seemed to abstractly illustrate the poem, like a somewhat mechanical movement when the poem was talking about the passage of time. The choreography was endlessly inventive and engaging and the nine dancers were supremely talented and expressive.
The paintings by Brice Marden were gorgeous and had a major impact on the piece. Jane and I were both annoyed that the first approximately ten minutes of the show were performed behind a painted scrim. A little of that goes a long way, it has a way of distancing the audience from the action. It's annoying. The enormous paintings in the central scene were my favorite element:
They were not just beautiful to look at but also functional. The panel in the center of the photo was placed in front of the other two, so the dancers could use it for entrances and exits, and the tall black strips on the right and left were openings in those panels. These staging elements gave some wonderful variety to the movement and the alternation of dancers.
I had never read or heard T. S. Eliot's *Four Quartets,* and what a glorious way to first experience it. The poetry occasionally mentioned dance, and often had musical patterns embedded in it, like the dancing - - similar repeated refrains and counterpoint and also an occasional deep dive into rhythm and a songlike use of rhyme. Chalfant was extraordinary in her performance of the poem. She was seated in the pit at a music stand with a microphone, so she more or less became part of the musical ensemble. Her diction was sublime and she delivered the text with flavor and intention but never anything resembling Drama. She wryly highlighted the few moments of humor, which always got a chuckle from the audience.
The music was resolutely present. I've heard a few pieces by Kaija Saariaho - - she's best known for her opera *L'amour de loin,* which I saw at the Met in 2016. She wrote this piece for violin, viola, cello, and harp. It was performed by The Knights. Her music was thrillingly virtuosic, especially for the string instruments, each of which got extended solos. I would describe the general mood of the music as "embittered lyricism." Actually, that description would work well for the whole experience.