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Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company

By Gus Solomons jr

New York Live Arts, NYC
September 16–25, 2011
Performances reviewed: Sep. 16, 17

 

Photo: Paul Matteson and Jennifer Nugent in Valley Cottage. Photo by Julieta Cervantes, Courtesy NYLA.

 

The inaugural event of New York Live Arts (the merger of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and Dance Theater Workshop) sets the bar high with "Body Against Body." These dances, created between 1977 and ’82, are all costumed and lighted by heavy hitters Liz Prince and Robert Wierzel, respectively. The two programs illustrate Jones' and Zane’s early choreographic methods.

Monkey Run Road (1979), Valley Cottage: A Study (1980/81), and Blauvelt Mountain (A Fiction) (1980) are duets originally made by the partners for themselves.  All explore similar movement materials, and it’s interesting to see how phrases transform their intention from formally doling out motifs in Monkey Run to organic flow in Valley Cottage and emotional catharsis in Blauvelt.

In Monkey Run, tall Talli Jackson and small Erick Montes replace Jones and Zane. They start, dutifully recreating precise pushing of a large wood box from here to there and back, sitting on it, diving into the hole in its top, doing solo phrases of different lengths in front of it, then doing them at once, timed to end together. Gradually, the men become more themselves and add their personal flavor to the dance. At 30 minutes, it’s too long for cyber-age sensibilities, but Jones’ craft can bore and fascinate us simultaneously.

In Valley Cottage, Paul Matteson and Jennifer Nugent—also a real-life couple—capture the rapport of the original partners. But their tour de force is Blauvelt Mountain, in which their repetitive persistence builds fierce emotional intensity; the two exhaust themselves in a miasma of endlessly rearranged, repeating motifs.  The movement takes a backseat to personal relationship.  Their verbal word association repartee is as comfortable as a slipper, as they dance with Olympic stamina and precision—slow-motion fighting, caressing, wrestling, skipping like pop stars.    

In Duet x 2 (1982) LaMichael Leonard, Jr. and Antonio Brown burst through a red-fringed swinging door (by Bjorn Amelan) and walk divergent paths before engaging in contact that alludes to Jones/Zane’s life partnership—mutual support, hand-holding, squabbling. At length, they exit the saloon doors, but immediately the duet repeats with Jackson replacing Brown. So archetypal are the measured moves that small alterations from one partnership to the next are vivid.    

An array of illustrious guests graces Continuous Replay (1977), including Jones/Zane alumni (Alexandra Beller, Arthur Aviles), and members of the Cunningham (Robert Swinston, Jennifer Goggans), Trisha Brown (Vicky Schick), Alvin Ailey (Matthew Rushing), and Graham (Marni Thomas, Tadej Brdnik, Janet Eilber) dance companies—even Graham channeler Richard Move. 

Led by Erick Montes, naked throughout, Replay is an accumulation, set to John Oswald’s sampling of birdcalls, disco, and Stravinsky. Dancers repeatedly join and leave the phrase, first nude (some less inhibited guests), then in black, black and white, and finally white clothing. In a corridor of light, the piece traverses the upstage, moves down, then across the front, surrounding solos, duets, and trios that happen in the negative central space. Here, although the material constantly repeats, its modulation in ever-changing combinations keeps it gripping.

“Body Against Body” continues at New York Live Arts through September 25. Click here for information and tickets.