The dancers of the Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company are athletes. Their bodies, rippling with muscles are projected vertically, horizontally, and over and under each other, with grace and seeming ease. The 3 works featured in this weekend’s American Dance Festival performances show a diverse company with a unique style of movement.
The Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company was founded in 1982 from eleven years of collaboration between Jones and Zane (1948-1988). Since that time the company of 10 (several of whom are ADF alumni) has become internationally known and noted for diverse collaborations with musical and visual artists and its innovative and diverse repertoire.
The show opens with Spent Days Out Yonder (2000), choreographed by Bill T Jones. The music is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s String Quartet No. 23 in F Major, K. 590, Adante, and is provided by the Durham Symphony Orchestra. Two dancers start facing the back against a blue backdrop and a third is walking to his place among them. The other dancers eventually join. The movements are primarily upper body and rely strongly on arm isolations. There is a dreamlike quality to this dance, with the lyrical movements and the dancers making their way across the stage, merging into and out of the group. The end is particularly striking, when the orchestra holds a single note for about a minute. The stage lights lift to a bright and natural light and the dancers become still. The moment of stillness is like an artist’s still life, or an actual moment extended in time like the note of the musicians. With the note still held, the dancers leave the stage slowly, like through a thick liquid.
The second work is Continuous Replay (1977, 1991), choreographed by Arnie Zane and revised by Bill T Jones, with an interesting mosaic of music by John Oswald. A solitary and naked man enters, then runs away. He returns, still without clothes and moves in silence. The rest of the dancers enter one at a time and repeat the same series of movements alongside the first, until the full company is together. The nudity of the dancers, distracting at first, becomes less so as the dance goes on. The movements seem to mimic nature or depict some animal, like a tribal ritual dance. One by one the dancers leave and re-enter, wearing one item of clothing, until everyone is fully-clothed except the first dancer, who remains nude. The movement of the group changes little throughout, but the mood of the dance changes. What had been order becomes chaos as dancers break free and move in a way to set themselves apart. The layers of music that add to the feeling of primal chaos include a rock guitar, the song Reflections by the Supremes, and strings, so that it feels the radio needs to be tuned. The parts of the dance seem unrelated at times, with the nudity contributing little to the theme. However, in retrospect, the dance took shape by the end to become something whole, perhaps evolutions through states of nature.
The last dance, D-Man in the Water (1989, 1998) by Bill T Jones, with music Octet for Strings in E-Flat Major, Op. 20 by Felix Mendelssohn, also played by the Durham Symphony Orchestra is exhilarating and highlights the dancers’ strengths. This dance is full of interesting visual elements. At one point, dancers repeatedly roll onto the stage and are leapt over by another dancer. At least once a dancer bounds from the air onto the stage and into the arms of another dancer. The fast action moving around, over, under and onto each other shows the company as one unit rather than a set of individuals. The most notable moment, though, is when they fly across the stage, leap to their stomachs and slide like seals, while others run and roll without ever slowing. This is a whirlwind of movement, simple, skillful and captivating. The wind-in-in-the-hair movement style continues throughout, with dancers coming from all directions with high leaps, low rolls, and lyrical body and footwork resembling ballet.
Jones’ choreography is innovative, sublime, and like most great things, based on simple concepts. The performance is uplifting, literally, but it is also down-to-Earth. The performers’ attire is very basic, like street clothes, except when they have no attire. And the expressions worn by the dancers are those of people actively engaged in a creative activity, like carving a piece of wood to unique perfection. The dances have been choreographed and set, but the dancers create it before your eyes. In the smaller progressions there are moments of shaky technique, but the splendor in their strengths more than make up for those. You can still see Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company tonight (Saturday, June 18) at DPAC at 8pm.
by Denise Cerniglia