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Flash Review 3, 2-5: Jones Redux
"D-Man in the Waters"

By Vanessa Manko
Copyright 2002 Vanessa Manko

NEW YORK -- In addition to the new dances presented this past weekend at Alice Tully Hall in collaboration with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company also revived Jones's 1989 "D-Man in the Waters," an acrobatic, energetic work set to Mendelssohn's Octet in E-flat Major, Op. 20, seen Friday. After two premieres and two rather lengthy intermissions, "D-Man in the Waters" arrived as a welcome finale to the evening. And, it seemed this way not just to the audience; the dancers emitted such a sense of joy in dancing this final piece that it infused it with a freshness and vitality that truly brought it to life.

Clad in army fatigues and flight jumpers, the dancers romp through this ebullient work, somersaulting and spring-diving on to the stage. Swimming motifs are laced through the piece. Jones has taken the breast stroke, the dive, and the sense of floating or staying afloat and inserted these common movements into his choreography. But it's a subtle effect -- not too much, but just enough. He has found the danceable elements within the sport of swimming. A deep blue screen lines the back of the stage, as the work opens with a flash of movement and doesn't let up. A stream of dancers run on stage and line up, frantically crisscrossing their arms in front of their faces, and, just as the line forms, it reforms again as the back of the line feeds into the front.

There is wit in this piece as well. At one moment, dancers line up and move diagonally downstage, arms linked above their heads with their partners'. The pairs make their way down the diagonal and coyly present a pointed foot -- an old-time cotillion reconfigured. Equally playful was the mock pas de trois in which men, proudly displaying their perfect passes, were promenaded round and round by two female partners each. A signature of this piece seemed to be arms outstretched and paddling as if their owners were struggling to stay afloat, moving through patterns.

For the most part this was a high energy, high endurance performance. Yet sometimes the most effective and most lasting impressions are the ones that are set back from the chaos, the quieter moments. (Technically speaking, these are often harder to perform then the acrobatic tricks and athletic dancing.) In "D-Man in the Waters," these moments issued as simple as a walk across the stage, the dancers crossing on half toe one by one. On releve, they seemed to hover over the floor, with each stately stride precisely placed, one foot in front of the other until they reached the other side of the stage and lifted their gazes to a a distant point.

This motif resurfaces amid the later dancing when Catherine Cabeen enters upstage in the same walk and balances for what seems like forever, before creeping back off stage, only to repeat the same sequence again. Of course, Jones picked the perfect dancer for this role. With her long, pliable legs and exquisitely arched feet that, when raised into releve, resemble the strokes of calligraphy, Cabeen is a pleasure to watch.

What is always enjoyable about watching this company perform is the dancers Jones has chosen to present his choreography. He works with bodies of every kind, and some dancers, particularly the women, stand out. There is Toshiko Oiwa, capable of razor sharp exactitude and lyricism. Or the strong and compact Ayo Janeen Jackson. And then there are the tall Amazonian women whose legs don't stop, floating up into never-ending arabesques. While each performer is a pleasure to watch separately, the real magic begins when they perform the same choreography side by side. Then one is able to watch how the vocabulary looks on different bodies. It's truly fascinating. "D-Man in the Waters" is an uplifting piece, and certainly worthy of revival.

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