Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company

January 31, 2002

The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company performed with the Orion String Quartet.
Richard Termine, courtesy Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company

Alice Tully Hall
New York, New York

January 31?February 3, 2002

Reviewed by Albert Lee

By coincidence, or perhaps divine design, Bill T. Jones turned 50 shortly after premiering three works in late January, which, of course, begs all sorts of interesting questions: Does age influence art? Is youth vital to creation? All fine inquiries, which, to be sure, are best left to finer minds. Now, what of the work?

Verbum, Black Suzanne, and WorldWithout/In?set to music by Beethoven, Shostakovich, and the contemporary Hungarian composer György Kurtág, respectively?are the results of a collaboration that began three years ago between Jones and the Orion String Quartet, resident artists at Lincoln Center’s Chamber Music Society. They’re what you might expect of a firebrand who’s long since settled into his role as thoughtful elder and become part of the establishment: boutique miniatures of not exactly pressing import, but nevertheless gorgeous and visually exacting. Beauty for beauty’s sake.

the first piece, is a showcase for the dancers and Jones’s eclectic vocabulary?tai-chi, karate, modern, pedestrian, break-dance. Dressed in silver velour outfits, the company moves in and around three squiggly oval rings of metal, suggestive of giant paper clips, swaying from playful to aggressive, with a rangy fluidity seen in all parts. There’s no strict narrative, but you have a sense, as Jones folds holy-ghost shudders into more liquid movement, that these are people immersed in a struggle. In a solo during the Beethoven adagio, Toshiko Oiwa walks her fingers across her own arms and explores the stage, now dashing, now pausing, as if testing the artistic potential of each space.

is unlike any Jones work I’ve seen: a sublimely incomprehensible Satyricon with masks, bowls of incense, and a templelike pyramid of white stairs. It’s a universe populated by archetypes?veiled assassin, feline rogue, flower-festooned odalisques, rosy-cheeked glutton, cell-phone-jabbering Josephine?and the dancers go in and out of character, donning and removing Ishanee DeVas’s and Katherine McDermott’s masks and props, such as an umbrella made of money and a cloak of flowers. Oiwa is particularly fantastic as the feline, who lingers lazily on the steps and dashes friskily about, always a faintly sinister presence. There’s a death, rebirth, and an attempted rape of sorts, and the piece ends in media res, leaving the viewer to figure out the puzzle.

Black Suzanne,
set to Shostakovich’s String Octet, Opus 11, seems to depict life at a demented gymnasium. Wearing red wrestling jerseys with bulky chalkboard-eraser-size pads, the dancers pair off in teams and tackle each other on a red mat in the middle of the stage as a giant, leering flower looms behind them. Stylistically, it’s distinct, with few adornments and small gestures. Instead, it’s hitting backs, grinding shoulders, kicking, stomping, walking on hands, and a few jolts like a dancer leaping into three dancers’ arms and, instead of being caught, bowling them over.

No sweeping surprises, yet the evening, all in all, feels remarkable in an oddly historical sense. Our most tolerant radical is part of the canon, and it’s encouraging to know he encompasses a love of movement that includes gestures and phrases from every conceivable field, as the Jones/Zane dancers’ backgrounds (jazz, ballet, Tharp, Graham, Chinese folk) attest. What does it mean that a choreographer who can pack Alice Tully Hall can segue from a grand jeté to pop-locking, and no one bats an eye? It means not only are Jones and his dancers talented but also that our eyes have, with no fanfare, become acclimated to multiculturalism.