Keep it organic
How do you express a relationship through movement? For Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane, creating duets was an essential part of their life partnership, although their dance vocabulary was experimental, devoid of sentimentality, and almost ruthlessly abstract. Still, two early duets presented by the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, in connection with the opening of SITE Santa Fe’s Eighth International Biennial (which includes a digital animation piece based on improvisations by Jones), were poignant, given that Zane died of AIDS-related lymphoma more than 20 years ago, that Jones has continued to thrive as an artist but no longer performs, and that this kind of postmodern dance from the ’ 80s is now considered historical.
Casting was used to draw a clear distinction between then and now. Neither duet featured dancers who resembled the choreographers at all. Jones and Zane were like a multiracial Mutt and Jeff — Jones tall, black, and heroic; Zane, short, white, and quirky. While Jones always drew attention for his physique and stage presence, Zane’s contributions to their choreography often imbued it with humor — a much-needed attribute in the oh-so-serious world of the downtown dance scene in New York, where they built their reputation.
One particular phrase in Blauvelt Mountain (A Fiction) — from 1980 revised by Jones in 2002 — which featured a man and a woman dancing the roles originated by Jones and Zane, epitomized Zane’s dance style. A simple traveling motif, breaking out of a period of athletic partnering (of which there were many), it was a skipping step done with a certain sissified joy, cutting loop-the-loops, zigzags, and lines in space. Seeing this step several times throughout the piece danced by Jennifer Nugent, and, once, near the end, by Paul Matteson, who took Jones’ part, communicated a sense of unbridled love for movement, as well as the idea of two men trying to meet each other halfway in life.
The conceit in Duet X 2 (1982, revised in 2003) was that Jones danced the same duet (more or less) twice, with two different men. As in Blauvelt Mountain, the postmodern fascination with repetition is at the heart of the choreography. Movements and phrases are repeated in different parts of the piece, and all over the stage, as if to make you think twice (or three times, or four). A lingering image is that of the two dancers standing side by side. The intimacy suggested by the slow entwining reach of hands and arms is made doubly powerful at the end of the piece, when the original partner (Antonio Brown) comes back on to witness the second pair (LaMichael Leonard with Talli Jackson) getting hip to hip. It is as if Zane has been invited to come back from the afterlife to observe Jones with a new husband.
Watching the stunning physicality and endurance of the dancers throughout the evening made one wish not only that the entire company could visit Santa Fe with its new Abraham Lincoln-themed opus, Fondly Do We Hope … Fervently Do We Pray, but that the members of The OpenEnded Group, creators of the animated piece — After Ghostcatching, which had its public premiere at the Lensic Performing Arts Center and shows at the SITE biennial in 3-D — could step away from their computers for a while to watch these dances. After Ghostcatching looks like a science-fiction special-effects showcase, robbing Jones of his dignity and adding, for some unknown reason, an overall sense of darkness and evil. Sadly, there is no apparent correlation between Jones and Zane’s love for people dancing and this digital representation.
— Michael Wade Simpson