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Flash Review 1, 5-14: Just Another Night on Earth
Bill T. Walks, but Doesn't Move

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2001 Maura Nguyen Donohue

When the curtain rose on the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company Saturday night at Aaron Davis Hall, I was thrilled -- simply. I was thrilled simply at the image of a raising curtain and the moment's revelation of four dancers on a large proscenium stage full of stage smoke dramatically defining the various rays of light. A striking image, afforded by the space and distance that a venue like Aaron Davis Hall offers an artist and observers. As a regular attendee of downtown dance events, I reveled for a moment in seeing bodies on a proper concert stage. Unfortunately, when I left feeling like I'd never been "invited in" as an audience member, I wondered if it was my habitual proximity to performers in my favorite up-close-and-personal venues or if it was the work itself. It definitely wasn't the company. Bill T. can put together a diverse group of phenomenal dancers better than anyone. And I've been bowled over by work at Aaron Davis Hall in the past. Somewhere along the way though, something wasn't clicking.

I was also probably recovering from the wonderful surprise of seeing Katherine Dunham in the audience. I discovered later that Homer Avila was also in attendance, apparently recovering well from the recent surgery that cost him his right leg and busy trying to help others to get over their own troubles regarding his struggle. With a legend and an accidental hero amongst us, we were a crowd assembled to witness the conclusion of a modern dance icon's four-year residency at Aaron Davis Hall. This conclusion would include a community based work, "The Table Project," as well. All of this heightened a strong feeling of community and support within the audience. People were eager to enjoy. Based on the standing ovation at the end of the evening, I'd say most of them did. Unfortunately, you'd have to stick me in the dissenting box of jaded-New York-Modern-Dance-snobs. I wasn't charmed. I wasn't offended either. I just mostly wasn't moved. Not what one expects out of an evening with Bill T. I guess it's been a while since I'd seen his work. I guess it's time to find a new angry artist of color to revere.

Jones's examination of perception in "The Table Project" did challenge me though. And even if he's making more -- as a fellow member of the jaded club called it -- "fluff," these days, there is evidence that the man is still thinking even if he has personally mellowed out. Saturday night we watched six older men, including Jones, and six little girls from the Harlem community perform the same movement tasks. The men perform first and the girls follow them. The cast change allows the audience to question how gender and age of performers alter our own perception of the work. Jones plays with perception with the skill he's employed previously in his own company's works. I'm admittedly amused at the antics on stage but much more interested in examining where and when we, the audience, respond to the signifiers on stage. Why is laughing at a cute little black girl bubbling through her section any more entertaining than laughing at a mature black man stumbling through his? Is it? Or is the amount of laughter increased because we don't feel bad about laughing at a little girl. Whereas our laughter at the older men holds a hint of guilt.

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