A Miraculous Tension Between Classical and Modern
BY GUS SOLOMONS | In its two week Joyce Theater season, through April 7, the Bill T. Jones/ Arnie Zane Company marks its 30th year with two programs that include works from 1977 to the present.
Program B, seen on March 27, was comprised of two New York premieres, “Ravel: Landscape or Portrait?” and “Story/,” set, respectively, to Ravel’s 1904 “String Quartet in F Major” and Franz Schubert’s “String Quartet No. 14 in D Minor” (“Death and the Maiden”).
Bill T. Jones/ Arnie Zane Dance celebrates 30th anniversary
Jones has always acknowledged his admiration for choreographic colleagues like Trisha Brown and Merce Cunningham, and subtly references their work in his new pieces. At one moment in “Ravel,” for example, Jennifer Nugent dances offstage and immediately back on, as if the stage were too small for her expansive movement. In another place, she and Talli Jackson back up into the wings but leave their extended hands visible, as if they hadn’t actually left the room.
Accompanying the dances, the venerable Orion String Quartet adds its remarkable musical authority to various selections from Mozart to Mendelssohn, Ravel to Schubert. The dynamic tension between the classical music, played live, and Jones’ eclectic modernity is completely organic and altogether satisfying.
For “Ravel: Landscape or Portrait?” Jones’ design collaborator Bjorn Amelan traces a rectangular cubic prism defined by white rope in which the dance happens. Robert Wiertzel’s lighting etches the dancers in space against a black backdrop. It’s as if the dancers carried their own internal illumination, while the space they’re in brightens and darkens around them. In one section, a celestial projection –– by associate artistic director Janet Wong –– turns the stage and proscenium into outer space.
Jones addresses the question posed by the title by having the dance alternate fluently between group tableaus –– sweeping here and there within the rectangle, constantly changing the landscape –– and more intimate portraits of the dancers alone or in twos and threes. The motion is continuous and sensuous, and the conversation among motifs binds the cast into a tightly knit community, dressed in wonderfully personal, casual clothes by Liz Prince.
The other dance, “Story/” (2013, New York premiere), is the latest version of Jones’ investigation of indeterminacy, inspired by composer John Cage’s eponymous book. On a black floor, marked off into large rectangles with white tape (by Amelan), the nine dancers begin in a clump in an upstage corner, opposite the onstage musicians. Again, they move through motifs that ricochet amongst them and also take solo moments.
Early on, Montes Chavero tosses an apple into the air. Then, other apples appear in dancer’s hands. The apple is one of several red herrings Jones includes to imply some narrative content. At a later place in the piece, several dancers roll across the stage; one of them (Jenna Riegel) appears to be smoldering, leaving a stream of stage smoke behind her. The residual mist adds mystery to Antonio Brown and LaMichael Leonard, Jr.’s duet.
Along with tossing apples, the dancers shout signals and erupt with an occasional yell, again hinting at narrative. This seems contrived, since there’s not enough of it to create a consistent subtext to the dancing. But the glorious dancing just keeps getting more rich and exciting.
In Nugent and Leonard’s duet they tumble over each other like playful otters. At half Leonard’s height, Nugent nonetheless has no trouble hefting his lanky frame. Alternating quartets parallel the “four-ness” of the musicians. Males and females cooperate in constant contact, like lively, viral organisms.
In the finale, dancers get flipped, get carried aloft, and dive into waiting arms in a bracing physical rhapsody that continually builds excitement.
BILL T. JONES / ARNE ZANE DANCE COMPANY | Joyce Theater | 175 Eighth Ave. at 19th St. | Mar. 30-31, Apr. 6-7, 2 p.m.; Mar. 30, Apr. 4-6, 8 p.m.; Apr. 2-3, 7:30 p.m. | $10-$69 at joyce.org or 212-242-0800