Review: Storytelling Made Memorable by the Bill T. Jones / Artie Zane Company at the Joyce
By Sheila Kogan, Contributing Writer, November 1, 2016
The Bill T. Jones/Artie Zane Company has arrived at the Joyce Theater and is presenting in alternating repertory two parts from a larger work, Analogy Trilogy, based on oral histories that Jones conducted himself. As described in notes from the company “each part reveals Jones’ ongoing exploration of how text, storytelling, and movement pull and push against each other as the performers move seamlessly between dancing, speaking, and singing.” The inspiration for this work was initially triggered by W.G.Sebald’s The Emigrants with stories “rooted in memory, history, and the mysterious force of personality in the face of traumatic events.”
One of the two parts being presented is Analogy/Dora: Tramontane, based on the oral history of Dora Amelan, a Jewish activist in Europe during World War II. Although the words are direct quotes from Dora (and from Mr. Jones who conducted the interviews), they are spoken by the dancers. Using hand-held microphones that are moved around the stage on tables, or handed to one another, various dancers take the part of Dora (or Jones, the interviewer) reciting their words to describe what had happened to Dora and her family. Her story could have been the scenario for a movie, but here it’s the basis for a performance piece. I found it remarkable that the dancers could speak so clearly at the same time that they were dancing complex choreography.
The performance brought to mind other productions that have used interviews as their source material – A Chorus Line or Runaways, for instance, but those works fall more into a traditional musical theater genre. Bill T. Jones puts his own stamp on things. Choreographed to a pastiche of French and German songs, the inventive and expressive abstract movement is credited to Bill T. Jones with Janet Wong and the Company. (The musicians play and sing just to the side, off of the stage, but in view of the audience.) I wondered if the dance might work just as well on its own because it was so wonderful, but somehow it provided a layer of interest, even though it was never a literal parallel to the spoken word.
At the beginning of the performance, the dancers moved large geometric shapes around the stage, making me think that I would be seeing a totally abstract piece of modern dance; but eventually the shapes were placed in such a way that they suggested various locations (a house, a hospital, a hotel) as well as part of the general, emotional landscape. So the décor (by Bjorn Amelan) was also part of the choreography. A few props appeared: a table, a folding cot. They, too, were moved around by the dancers. The costumes (designed by Liz Prince) were mostly modern rehearsal clothes, like sweatpants and tee shirts, with an occasional touch to indicate the period. The lighting (designed by Robert Wierzel) was mostly bright and clear, but occasionally put individuals in shadow for dramatic effect. It all added dimension to the storytelling.
Each member of the multi-ethnic company moved with fluid ease, with the admirable control of beautifully trained modern dancers. Very impressive. Although different dancers played Dora or Jones, or other people in Dora’s story, one role stood out: the famous French mime, Marcel Marceau (played by Carlo Antonio Villanueva), who happened to have been Dora’s cousin. For the memorable character, elements of mime were incorporated in the choreography, and he danced with wit and panache.
Dora’s story is complicated, full of drama and human emotion. (It is also specific, and so, different than many of the World War II stories I’ve heard.) As conceived and directed by Bill T. Jones and performed by these talented dancers, it is a very touching experience, and a worthwhile addition to the repertoire of this very special company.
Analogy/Dora: Tramontane presented by the Bill T. Jones/Artie Zane Company at the Joyce Theater, October 25 through November 6, 2016. Artistic Director/Co-Founder/Choreography: Bill T. Jones; Co-Founder/Choreographer: Arnie Zane; Associate Artistic Director: Janet Wong; décor by Bjorn Amelan; lighting design by Robert Wierzel; costume design by Liz Prince; sound design by Sam Crawford; musicians: Nick Hallett, Matthew Gamble, Emily Manzo. Dancers: Antonio Brown, Rena Butler, Cain Coleman, Jr., Talli Jackson, Shane Larson, I-Ling Liu, Jenna Riegel, Christina Robson, Carlo Antonio Villanueva.
Cover: Members of the Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane Company in “Analogy/Dora: Tramontane”. Photo by Paul B. Goode.