On Sunday, September 23, I went with my friend Joanna to see the Bill T. Jones/ Arnie Zane Company at NYU Skirball for their presentation of Analogy Trilogy. It was an absolute marathon performance. No, correction- a triathlon.
Here are some details from the New York Live Arts website:
CAP UCLA presents Analogy Trilogy, a new and ambitious three-part work from the acclaimed Bill T. Jones /Arnie Zane Company. All three works — Analogy/Dora: Tramontane, Analogy/Lance: Pretty aka The Escape Artist and Analogy/Ambros: The Emigrant — will be presented in one seven-hour marathon performance that includes all three works, dinner and a post-show Q & A with the company. Analogy Trilogy searches for the connection between the three varying stories; focusing on memory and the effect of powerful events on the actions of individuals and, more importantly, on their often unexpressed inner life. As with his previous work A Rite, Jones continues his exploration of how text, storytelling and movement pull and push against each other and how another experience can be had through the combination and recombination of these elements, furthering the development of his company into an ensemble that not only dances beautifully, but also sings and speaks.
I say that it was a triathlon because of the multiple representations of artistic performance and product included in these pieces. The cast of accomplished dancers and choreography by Bill T. Jones displayed a huge range of versatility in diverse movement styles ranging from contemporary partnering, house vogueing, ballet, and all manner of gesture and pantomime. The choreography seemed to exhaust the well of movement vocabulary and test the limits of stamina of the performers. As if that weren’t enough, they also delivered long bouts of text and some had to sing.
The performances included a mix of recorded interview, recorded and mixed music, and live vocal and instrumental performance. The latter was particularly powerful with several classical pieces sung in languages besides English. Dancers wore multiple costumes in each piece. In Analogy/Lance: Pretty AKA the Escape Artist, dancers stripped down and changed onstage into new fashions from a crowded clothes rack.
And let’s not forget the moving set pieces which the dancers maneuvered climbed into, under, flipped, and assembled onstage. Flat, geometrical pieces in Analogy/Dora served to created houses and walls, creating a rich sense of the houses and camps during World War 2. A large clear box-like structure in Analogy/Lance: Pretty AKA the Escape Artist helped illuminate the spoken and recorded words describing the central character’s experiences in prison and as a rising star in the New York City NIghtclub and sex trade culture during the late 80’s and early 90’s. My interpretation of this structure is the creation of both a cage and a stage where the character can both present the glamor of the performer-face while stuck in a lifestyle fraught with secrets and destruction.
Each work was meticulously crafted, rich with sensory detail, and danced with strength, control, and fluidity this company is often known for. Imagery of character and experience was provided through the text, costumes, and set pieces, but also trough the music and both construction and execution of the movement. I was not left wondering if I had just seen great art. What I did wonder is why tell these stories and why not just with dance when the dancers are themselves so capable, the choreography so imaginative? Why not limit oneself to the language of dance in providing the story when the vocabulary of maker and mover is so expansive?
I am reminded of a piece I danced in 2013 called ‘One’,Choreographed by Uri Sands, co-director of TU Dance. The work centered on the book ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ which describes the life of an African American woman who was diagnosed with cancer and whose cancerous cells were used for developing treatments for many major medical problems dating from the 1950’s to contemporary times. Before we started, I was very afraid that engaging in a work about a woman wo lost her life to cancer would be particularly difficult for me, having just lost my Dad to mesothelioma the year prior. But the work did not end up being narrative. The movement mirrored aspects of what I can imagine Ms. Lacks’ experience was at times, but also could be abstracted to the structures and process of cell division and multiplication. In the end, I felt a deeper respect for this woman because while dancing this piece, I did not feel as though I put on a mask and pretended to be a character. Because of the non-literal interpretation and allowing the movement to focus on the sensory experiences- I swear this was the beginning of the shaking trend that you see everywhere in contemporary dance now- I was better able to understand not just what happened to her, but what it might have been like. This is the gateway to empathy, emotion over facts.
You can read more about the residency with Uri, our performance and tour here Residency With Uri Sands
So why tell these stories? Perhaps for the education. For instance, I knew nothing about the underground Jewish organization in Vichy France’s internment camps, Gursand Rivesaltes. My knowledge of the 90’s club culture in New York comes mostly from conversations between Mama Ru and Michelle on Ru Paul’s Drag Race. As educators and earners, most would agree that emotion is the bond to memory, and for knowledge to last we have to tie the learning in with an experience. Stories allow us to do that.
Stories allow us to imagine ourselves there, or find surprising connections with characters that seem so far removed from ourselves. Good storytelling means providing diverse points of access to the life of the narrative, and in this way, the stimulation from the inclusion of text multiple costumes, sets, music, digital projections, and movement creates a larger platform of tools to show and tell, allowing for hopefully, more access points of connection with the audience. When the facts are told through the context of a human life, the facts become part of a narrative story, and are given a pulse. It becomes alive, and perfectly underscores the emotional need for live theater and performance.
My only criticism of this performance:
- The sideways digital text proections of who Lance/pretty danced with were unnecessary. They didn’t add anything except an amateurish distraction. If it looks like a tech job that I could pull off, I’m not impressed.
- I did notice some repetitive phrases of movement from one piece to the next. This is largely because when a dancer did a phrase that was beautiful and spectacular, I remembered it. It was weird to see the same dancer doing the same thing in such different pieces.
More Bill (I’m NOT obsessed!)
Let me just add this to my list of accomplishemnts: Bill T Jones presented with 2013 National Medal of Arts
In the program, Jones writes, ”
As much as Analogy Trilogy is concerned with form, it is also concerned with the development of an ensemble. By tasking the performers to act and sing, as well as dance we grow through our collaborative work together. Each performer is an artist, and individual growth is collective growth. It matters what their personal relationship to the dance is how they move what is being said onstage and how it is said. I can say that there’s a method to the madness but more importantly there’s an aspiration. And the aspiration gives birth to a form”.
I don’t know what he means by this at all but I hope that I can grow to learn. If this happens, I wil feel as if I am a part of his developing ensemble, accumulating a deeper sense of appreciation and understanding from the multi-sensory stories seen, told, and felt in this performance.