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Flash Review, 7-28: Confused Alarms of Struggle and Flight
Bill T. Jones Runs Aground on his 'Dover Beach'

By Chappelle Chambers
Copyright 2006 Chappelle Chambers

NEW YORK -- A dance highlight of the 2006 Lincoln Center Festival, Bill T. Jones's "Blind Date" got a standing ovation July 19 at the La Guardia Concert Hall. I couldn't help thinking that this was because we'd been sitting for more than 90 minutes, and wanted to stretch our legs, as much as because we really loved it.

As a longtime fan and supporter of Jones's work, I have to say I was under-whelmed. I thought it was a big mess, a collection of ideas strung together on Bjorn Amelan's grid-patterned set the way television programs are strung together by an ADD sufferer wielding a remote, or the way a researcher surfs the web. We were subjected to a veritable Times Square of images, like billboards or store windows; at its calmest it was like viewing pictures at an exhibition, with a dance company running wild in the gallery.

Slides of texts in several languages shared space with photos of people ranging from children to the dancers to what might have been elder statesmen and women from many cultures -- all of them unidentified. With live musicians in the pit (and sometimes taking the stage), Daniel Bernard Roumain assembled a score as disjointed as the visual and kinetic experience, though often wonderful; Nurit Pacht played a Bach violin sonata in the same jeans-and-tank-top combination that was the dancers' default costume, Neel Murgai played the sitar and the daf (a Persian frame drum), and Akim "Funk" Buddha raced around the stage and the pit singing and adding percussion to the mix. The performers sang national anthems of various countries in their original languages. The theme was patriotism, the method was collage, the outcome was chaos. It's a pesky problem, trying to blend sophisticated ideas and events ripped from the headlines with dancing.

Emerging from the stew were performances of great interest. Jones, playing a guy in a suit who gave off vibrations, sometimes, of a corrupt dictator, shared his scenes mostly with the wildly talented Andrea Smith, a guy in camouflage fatigues who provoked and challenged him verbally and physically. Asli Bulbul, a Turkish dancer in a sexy red dress, sang, smoked, and told an engrossing story about the moon.

A recurring theme was the whole ensemble engaged in a trust exercise, dropping to the floor one by one and hoping the others would catch them before they crashed. The rest of the time they often marched like a platoon of soldiers, or threw themselves with abandon into one another's arms.

Dropped into the cavalcade of text and image was a homemade commercial for "Quack-a-Duck" burgers; a dancer dressed in a duck suit met a fate common to under-employed young men in neighborhoods like Harlem. The recurring duck imagery lent a dada aspect to the proceedings, not unwelcome. Jones sang an Irish song about a mother whose serviceman son gets his legs blown off, and the stage soon acquired its requisite corpse.

Jones is still committed, after all these years, to the notion that dancing can really mean something, change something in the way we perceive and respond to the larger world. But trying to show and say everything at once about a subject as complicated as 21st-century war seems to me a hopeless enterprise. Works of art, a poet once told me, are "thinkable simplicities." Jones might figure out how to edit down his vast grab bag of stimulating material into a presentation that clearly leads us somewhere. The larger world is confusing enough; we look to our artists to shape and clarify.

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