Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company

"Verbum," "Black Suzanne," "There Were," & "World II (18 Movements to Kurtág)"

Ted Shawn Theatre, Jacob's Pillow, Becket, MA

July 24-28, 2002
By S. E. Arnold

Mimicking the brevity, if not the enigma, of the titles given by Bill T. Jones to his works, one chooses a single word to describe them – "virtuosic."

The week-long stay of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company at the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival offered two programs. Both programs featured live music provided by the New York chamber group, Concertante, and Program A shared with Program B works titled Verbum and Black Suzanne. Between Verbum and Black Suzanne, however, Program B, the subject of this review, inserted There Were and World II (18 Movements to Kurtág).

Verbum (Latin for "word"), a dance for eight set to the String Quartet in F, Op. 135, by Beethoven, opened the concert. The costumes, white woven with silver, shimmered and the dancers also shimmered with rippling arms and torsos. This out-of-focus, moonlight effect was particularly poignant in the male solo danced in the nocturnal mood of the Quartet's slow movement. Yet, the continuous interplay between members of a group of four or two groups of four, one of the few concessions to the music i.e. a piece for four, included a range of sharper motions including balletic looking ones such as sissonnes and entrechats. Additionally, the rearrangement of three large squiggly shaped props visually confirmed the Quartet's progression of movements.

More importantly, however, these hollow forms often framed the dancers into portraits which, like their body types and costumes, underscored their individuality. And, if one takes this celebration of individuality as an expression of what scholar and professor Mora Keefe identifies as the 'democracy' inherent in the creative process and works of Bill T. Jones, then the use of chamber music to accompany all four pieces on this concert seems all the more appropriate. For example, a metaphor once made by a famous poet likened the music of a string quartet to a conversation held between four intelligent people. In all four works Jones uses stillness; silence; affectionate as well as rude gestures; contemplative postures, such as dancers moving with their backs to the audience; and counterpoint, which describes both the encounter and exchange of ideas between individuals, as well as a musical and choreographic procedure. Given just these structural elements, then, the metaphor of 'intelligent people in conversation' aptly applies to the choreography of Bill T. Jones.

Additionally, like a lively conversation, one that, say, develops like a particular kind of musical composition with text, the choreography, at least in the four pieces presented on Program B, looked 'thoroughly composed.' That is, his inventiveness seemed boundless, unpredictable, and wilfully free of music's gravity. Rather, his movement choices and ordering served dance ideas made clear enough that their radiated waves of intellectual and sensual stimulation buoyed one with excitement, rather than swamped one in psychosis.

Six Melodies for Violin and Piano by John Cage informed the Baroque arrangements of sculptural tableaux formed by the ten dancers of There Were, while the string quartet members, costumed in white formal wear, interacted with the nine dancers of World II (18 Movements to Kurtág). Alas, neither did one count the number of movements invented by Jones, nor noted if he used those movements to mimic the spare and serial sounding structure of Kurtág's String Quartet, Op. 1. However, adding the 6 movements of Opus 1 to the 12 movements of Opus 13Hommage à Mihály András, 12 Microludes for String Quartet – equals the total of 18 movements. Nevertheless, one suspects that Jones chose the music of Kurtág because its forbidding rhythms and extreme sonorities would declare it un-danceable to many choreographers, and because he and Kurtág hold a common view on art making – they see the world as their source material. In fact, the titles given by Jones to works are like Kurtág's music, whole worlds expressed in a few sounds.

The eight dancers in Black Suzanne, costumed in red leotards reinforced with blocks of padding, did battle to the "Prelude" and "Scherzo" for String Octet, Op. 11, by Shostakovich. Everything was red – the cyc, the floor mat, the music – and during the bright burn of the "Scherzo" the dance went ballistic. Dancers in teams of two or four and other warmed up, jumped, tumbled, rolled, took part in whatever the wild contest was, spelled each other, or threw themselves at each other to be caught by their team, and more. Black Suzanne, however, ended, as did the three other pieces, in silence. As two teams faced each other, each team aiding one of their members to walk on air, darkness enclosed them.

It is doubtful that a speaker of Latin, like Julius Caesar, used "verbum" to express understanding, agreement, or affirmation. Nevertheless, one exclaims "verbum" to the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company.


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Edited by Malcolm.

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