FROM THE HORSE'S MOUTH
March 27, 2019
A crowd, disparate in age and clique, pipes down when a familiar figure steps across the 14th St. Y stage. Cornering herself, Deborah Jowitt dances a short circular study in which curves are traveled in space, drawn by fingertips via conically swinging arms, and sculpturally embodied. A fellow dancer, a director, a reviewer, a scholar, and a teacher in any of the above disciplines to her spectators along a 65-year timespan, Deborah’s dancing all the more lacks any subtextual sense of “this is how it’s done.”
Witnessing Thursday’s portion of recollections in the 21st From the Horse’s Mouth, I was simultaneously daunted by not only the task to synthesize an overwhelming richness of history and warm memories, but, more personally, to write about she who has been, even to me, a choreographer, a compositional mentor, and a voluntary reader of drafts. As the evening progressed, however, I became instead as though wool on a loom, weaving into a cyclical pattern of so many others who, at so many different times, encountered Deborah in similar ways.
Sequenced nonlinearly, every storyteller was a different stop on a time machine on the fritz. It wasn’t until the end of the first third that dance historian Patricia Beaman explained how Deborah’s near choice at 18 to study acting in London would have impacted the dance community. Ellen Graff provided a snapshot of the two flanking Pearl Lang for a Hanukkah festival at Madison Square Garden in 1958 twenty-some odd years before taking her class on Isadora Duncan at NYU. From the Horse’s Mouth Co-Director Tina Croll, Marcia Lerner Hofer, and Barbara Roan took the 60’s by the reins with tell of the constant experimentation in process and on display at Dance Theater Workshop, Deborah’s titles, ostensible chimeras of language such as “Palimpsest” and “Lapis Lazuli,” at the forefront of their memories.
This love of words unifies Deborah, from her early aptitude for theatre to the tender criticism for which she has become universally lauded. Many, whether speaking or spoken of, marveled her ability to “get” them through her concise, evocative language, even if sparking some initial frustration. Others noted Deborah’s omniscient awareness and permanent memory, such as when Darrah Carr attempted to power through her contemporary Irish dancing on a broken toe she already knew about, or how Emily Coates needed to consult her biography on Jerome Robbins to properly remember her own experience of being with him for the last time.
After speaking, each performer takes a card, prompting them to improvise around the next horse. All additionally convene for several wildly costumed parades, danced by figures who, while praising Deborah’s formidable knowledge, indelibly constitute it just the same.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews