The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company was formed as a multi-cultural dance company in 1982 and if you were fortunate enough to see their work at that time, you witnessed a company that was not only multi-cultural, but one which broke all the stereotype rules about dancer body types. Jones is very tall and his late partner Arnie Zane was not. The company consisted of all colors and body types, giving hope to thousands of dancers who had been told that they need not try to get into a company due to their physiques. A perfect example was a male dancer who was considered over-weight but who danced like dream and who kept up with everyone in the company. Like all choreographers, Jones’ work has evolved over the 33 years that his company has been in existence, and he has created over 140 works for the company. When Zane was alive, the work was more straight-forward dancing. After Zane’s death in 1988, Jones began creating dances with more narrative lines; such as his Last Supper at Uncle Tom’s Cabin/The Promised Land (1990). He began to include more text, visual imagery, voice and to tackle difficult topics such as race, AIDS and anger with our lack of action confronting these subjects.
Story/Time (2012) opened the dance season at the Richard and Karen Carpenter Performance Center at CSU, Long Beach. The work was conceived and directed by Bill T. Jones and Choreographed by Jones with Janet Wong and members of the company. It has an amazing Lighting Design by Robert Wierzel that continually re-shapes the stage and performance area to not only enhance the choreography, but to bring out the best in the very stark, simple but elegant Décor by Bjorn Amelan and Associate Set Designer Solomon Weisbard. Costumes by Liz Prince are simple rehearsal type clothes, street clothes and even hoodies that fit the work perfectly. The movement is complexly simple and eloquent and to put a lot of extra layers on it would have been wrong. Ted Coffey’s music ranges from extremely John Cage-like voice manipulation, to Punk, to driving electronic originality. The entire ensemble of artists is truly powerful and inspiring.
And the dancers! What a joy to fest one’s eyes and senses on such beautiful dancers for a full 70 minutes without intermission. They all deserve mention here; Antonio Brown, Rena Butler, Cain Coleman, Jr., Talli Jackson, Shayla-Vie Jenkins, I-Ling Liu, Erick Montes-Chavero and Jenna Riegel. I was told that one male dancer was missing, Joseph Poulson, because he was about to become a father and was by his wife’s side. Every one of them can hold their own in solos, but work together beautifully as an ensemble.
Story/Time opens with Jones walking onstage to greet everyone in the audience. He then asks his Director of Production, Anita Shah to come onstage with him. She has a stopwatch and Jones asks the audience to raise their hand when they think that one minute has passed. Shah says go and we wait. Hands pop up at all different times until the minute is over. Jones then says that we will be experiencing 70 of such minutes. He then sits down at a very modern style desk, with 8 or 10 green apples lined up across the front of it, a small lamp, a microphone and a glass of water. For the rest of the piece Jones reads stories from his life; stories that he has written. Each story takes him approximately 1 minute to read, but there are not 70 of them because every so often everything stops onstage and Jones allows us to simply look at the people standing or sitting there doing nothing but looking at each other. These are beautiful and lush moments and they demonstrate Jones’s trust in his own artistry. He isn’t afraid of stillness or silence.
Part of the set in the beginning of Story/Time is a large digital clock upstage that is ticking off the minutes. I was happy when it slowly moved upward and disappeared, as watching time pass has never been easy for me. It did, however, help us realize just how long and how fast a single minute can feel. The dancers moved portable walls in and around the stage. There was a couch which was used to sit on, lie on and as a sedan chair to carry a dancer around like royalty. The apples were taken by dancers or given to them by Jones at different times to become a partner for that dancer. A male dancer rolled across the stage with smoke spewing from underneath his hoodie. Two or three dancers rolled across totally nude in discrete lighting for those in the audience who might be offended by beautiful human bodies. Jones gave homage to other artists in his life through his stories, music and with a brief movement section where dancers holding hands became intertwined a la George Balanchine.
As I mentioned earlier, the dancing was full and luscious. It was sensual and it was powerful. Duets, trios, quartets and one extended unison phrase of the entire ensemble to Jones reading with great intensity and increasing speed, passages from the Old Testament. Portable lights were used onstage for a strident effect, which served its purpose, but were harsh on our eyes when at full power, albeit briefly. The set was moved around and the areas on the lighting on the floor shifted to change the performance area and to pull our attention to a particular dancer or dancers. Those 70 minutes sailed by far too swiftly.
Special mention goes out to I-Ling Liu who moves with such power, mystery and directness. To the regal Rena Butler who possesses a quiet but demanding presence that is equally matched by her dancing, and to the tall Talli Jackson whose control and ease astounded me. I would also like to give a special shout out to Cain Coleman, Jr. for his solo to Rap-like music and his humorous exit flashing us the peace sign.
Singling out dancers in this incredible company is difficult. They each demanded our attention or drew our eyes to them. They are all amazing performers. Bill T. Jones is a master of his craft right now. He has managed with Story/Time to break his work down to the bare essentials and therefore show us his genius.
Photographer: Paul B. Goode
Review: Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company on SeeDance.com