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Bill T jones / Arnie Zane Dance Company

Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Dance Company

'The Gift / No God Logic', 'Etude', Excerpts from 'Estella's Prayer from Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin / The Promised Land', 'Reading Mercy and the Artificial Nigger', 'Mercy 10 x 8 on a Circle'

by Stuart Sweeney

June 15, 2004 -- Sadler's Wells, London


The last time Bill T Jones was in London for a full programme was a one-off performance of "the Breathing Show", an evening of solos and snapshots of his life in dance. It was an emotional evening with Jones' beautiful movement mixed with reminiscence and film of the garden where the ashes his lover Arnie Zane were scattered in 1988.

This time Jones is back with his Company for a UK tour celebrating their 20th Anniversary and at Sadler's they are presenting three programmes of new works together with a selection from their back catalogue. The first programme featured a 45-minute piece from 2003, "Reading, Mercy and The Artificial Nigger", which showed that Jones remains a potent creative force. Combining narrative with dance is a perilous exercise, but this setting of the short story, "The Artifical Nigger" by Flannery O'Connor, worked like a charm. As the two narrators alternate at the back of the stage, ten dancers take it in turns to play the two central characters - a boy, Nelson, and his Grandfather Mr. Head.  The story is small miracle, with a train journey, a walk through a city, some incidents and the return. Head's racist attitudes soon emerge and later in the story he pretends not to know Nelson when the boy accidentally knocks over a woman. But there is redemption and a reconciliation inspired by a giant plastic figure they see - the artifical nigger.

The story has inspired Jones to create eye-catching movement for Nelson and Head and the other walk-on roles, illustrating the story as it unfolds: the stately progress of a coloured man down the train, the exuberance of Nelson and a series of duets full of energy and interest. Ayo Janeen Jackson and Asli Bulbul are particularly convincing as Nelson, swinging their arms on the long trek through the town and personifying his enquiring mind and innocent vision in contrast to his Grandfather's prejudices.

The rest of the programme has its ups and downs. A grainy filmed solo, "the Prayer", has Jones dancing to the accompaniment of an a cappella hymn performed on-stage by Estella Jones. She's not a great singer but spirit and personality pour from her and in the space alongside, Jones tumbles and pounces in exultant movement. A live six-minute solo "Etude" shows that Jones remains a great mover, but it is not one of his most memorable dances.

"The Gift/No God Logic" revives a work from 1987 by Arnie Zane. To excerpts from Verdi a cell of four dancers return to a an X shape at regular intervals and then venture forth to explore movement that includes reaching skyward and graceful steps that give an impression of balletic control. The final stages repeat some earlier sections, but this time in silence and this section was the most intriguing. "Mercy 10x8 on a Circle" comes immediately after "Artifical Nigger" with the dancers in the same costumes, but it never drew me in and it would be better to let the earlier work stand on its own.

Edited by Jeff.

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