Flash Review, 11-7: Can everything old be new again?
By Philip W. Sandstrom
Copyright 2011 Philip W. Sandstrom
NEW YORK -- The immediate challenge facing this reviewer on September 25 at New York Live Arts (formerly Dance Theater Workhop), watching the current Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane Dance Company perform seminal pieces that defined the troupe in its early years, was not looking for Zane and Jones in the dances. Because I first experienced this work as performed by the co-choreographers, I had to try to erase the memory of those poignant and particular performances by those distinctive performers and force myself to view the work anew, all the more challenging as I'd worked with Jones/Zane on a number of their projects at Dance Theater Workshop in the 1980s.
Needless to say, this was a tall task that proved nearly impossible at the beginning of the evening with "Monkey Run Road" (created in 1979, reconstructed in 2011), to music by Helen Thorington, which score included the voice of Jones. As danced by Talli Jackson and Erick Montes, the movement seemed superficial at the start. Jackson, performing the Jones role, seemed lightweight by comparison and Monte, the shorter of the two, was more technically facile in his part than the role's originator Zane but lacked Zane's peripatetic edge.
The pair began by rolling out what looked like a U-shaped office desk, without a chair, onstage, using its surface alternately as a seat and bed, with the negative space in the U giving Montes the appearance of a bartender.As the dance continued and the box became less of a focal point, the Jones and Zane comparison became less important as Jackson and Montes came into their own. But as Jones and Zane receded in my viewing brain the plainness of the choreography came to the forefront. The repetition of the limited movement vocabulary as well as the music/sound score made for a dance with too little to say so many times and too many endings. Each ending merely led into the next section, which continued the repetitive process like a Mobius strip. When the end finally did come, it arrived more like a coda. Seemingly without any choreographic introduction, the dancers opened the rolling box to reveal an internal light that illuminated Montes as he leaped into Jackson's waiting arms. Tender, perhaps, but too long in coming.
In "Continuous Replay" (1977, revised by Jones in 1991), we're treated to an upstage parade of naked dancers of all sizes and shapes nicely juxtaposed against a stark white cyclorama. One of the company's signatures has always been the inclusion of some dancers with non-traditional body types; it adds flavor and depth to the choreography and allows us to marvel at how the same movement on different bodies provides visual and in some cases interpretative interest. I attribute this body-type variety to Zane's influence due to his visual arts background, and it has become a precept that has been carried forth by Jones in all subsequent work, and now defines the company. The naked dancers slowly added clothing piece by piece and entrance by entrance. Only Montes, who played the Clock, remained naked for the entire dance as he lead the company through a routine of movement that changed facings and location but rarely form or steps. The metronomic nature of the work and the marvel of many body types are the continually fascinating element of this dance. The exuberance of the company, which formed a cast of eccentric characters defined by their costumes, and the driving force of the music by John Oswald, have kept this dance fresh and interesting.
"Valley Cottage: A Study" (1980/81, reconstructed in 2011), with a score by Helen Thorington including text spoken by Jones, remains a signature duet originated by and for Jones and Zane. Here, danced by Shayla-Vie Jenkins and Jenna Riegel, the partnering of the two women immediately removed any comparison with the originators. Jenkins and Riegel styled the dance to themselves and began to own it soon after starting. Although the text spoken by Jones threatened to return the work to its creators, these two women were able to wrestle it away and meld a special relationship, making the text a mere story without referencing the story-teller. Their right-on partnering, aggressive at times and loving at others, was clear, firm, secure and a pleasure to behold. I would be interested in revisiting this dance with either Jenkins or Riegel's voice substituted for Jones's in the score so as to personalize the dance and help it blossom as a universal work.
The evening's visual design included costumes by Liz Prince and lighting by Robert Wierzel.