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Flash Review 1, 9-12: Still Re-born
Jones/Zane Looks Back and Finds You Can't Go Home Again
By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2003 Chris Dohse
NEW YORK -- This isn't
the first time I've found myself disagreeing with history. Or remembering
it differently. I mean, I was there, dancing and making dances at
the end of the 1970s and into the 1980s. Not in SoHo, not even in
New York (though I did starve through a winter here), but I remember
what concerns influenced me and the dancers I knew then. What compositional
choices we made; what styles fascinated us.
Surely if we, many of
whom are still members of the pomo dance so-called "community,"
gazed into our '80s navel, what would we find? Bill T. Jones, of
course. Inescapably the bellwether of a generation of dancemakers
who collided East Village performance and the '60s avant-garde lineage
into talking, gestural, identity-specific, polemical formalism.
Bill T. Jones/Arnie
Zane Dance Company's 20-year anniversary program at the Kitchen,
"The Phantom Project," memorializes two of the early duets (1980's
"Blauvelt Mountain" and 1981's "Valley Cottage") that established
the pair's careers, along with subsidiary pieces from that time
(1982's "Duet X 2" and "Continuous Relay," 1981's "Cotillion," and
1978's "Floating the Tongue"). The works are seen in archival footage
-- projected on a large wall -- and recreated by a rotating cast
of the company's current dancers.
I couldn't afford to
see dance concerts during my previous time in New York (and I certainly
didn't have the "wild times at the Odeon" Jones reminisced about
to Gia Kourlas in Time Out New York this week), so I welcomed a
chance to evaluate this era-defining work. In these early dances,
interracial homosexual desire, with its long heritage of taboo,
had its first incendiary moment in the art historical eye.
But here's the thing:
The works recreated on the Kitchen program all look alike. And this
endless duet isn't really very interesting today. My memory tells
me that, lifted from its original historical framing device it is
no more compelling than what anyone else was doing around that time.
It looks repetitive in a boorish way, overlong. The attack and intent
of gesture (mostly lunging semaphore) and the staccato pacing become
predictable and turn into a flat sort of nonlinear blur, like figures
on an Etruscan jar.
Part of this is, of
course, that the company members who take turns filling the parts
originally danced by Bill and Arnie -- and they are all individual
knockouts -- can only stand in the shadow of the mythos of the originals.
It was the Jones/Zane relationship, at once subversive and inspirational,
the statement it made at that moment in history and the way they
turned it into mythology by laundering it -- well, not laundering
it so much as flaunting it perhaps -- in their work, that was the
star. With this passion only represented by absence, eulogy and
ghosts, the material of the dances becomes textbook tedious.
We see spurts of movement
in clearly designed space: Totems, the air between them heavy with
the burden of centuries of objectification. Diaries of intimacy,
a seemingly unedited pastiche of gestures from Hindu avatar to the
cakewalk, the history of the middle of the last century and its
debris of images as a series of gesture accumulations.
A tall Black man and
an short Italian/Catholic/Jewish man showing tenderness to each
other as performance was paradigm challenging then. And still is
today, the way Jones has recast the roles (on Wednesday night most
notably with Malcolm Low and Wen-Chung Lin in "Blauvelt Mountain").
Physically Lin and Low are as mismatched as Jones and Zane were.
When they caress each other, the dance becomes a palimpsest of mixed-race
Nostalgia in our collective
viewing consciousness makes the work poignant. Nostalgia for a time
when postmodernism seemed a promising notion, before it ate itself
and got knackered. Nostalgia for our own losses and glory days as
we layer our milestones over '80s timelines.
I begin to chafe at
the incessant foregrounding of the dancemaker's ego. And since the
work has now been transferred into the vessels of a contemporary
cast, of the interpreters' egos. Movement/verbal diarrhea that privileges
solipsism might lead its performers to personal awakenings, but
it just falls flat as viewed action, swallowed by narcissism.
I absolutely reject
the recorded voices of Elizabeth Zimmer and Deborah Jowitt folded
into the sound collage, analyzing and commenting on the importance
of these early duets as we watch them -- I hear the words "camaraderie"
and "structure," the names Trisha Brown and Lucinda Childs -- as
if the opinions of these two critics dictate public record. Well
I suppose they do actually, but really it is too much to be force-fed
this canonization. I feel manipulated.
But Jones has successfully
controlled what he calls, in his opening remarks to the audience,
the "transformation of old things." It is not enough for him to
allow the work to be lionized by the critics into part of the official
art historical canon. He seems to have answered his own question:
"Where is the truth of what we make? In the past, the now, or out
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