A glimpse in­side “Fondly Do We Hope ... Fer­vently Do We Pray,” a new dancethe­ater take on Abra­ham Lin­coln.

The Washington Post Sunday - - ARTS - kauf­mans@wash­ BY SARAH KAUF­MAN

The first thing you see in Bill T. Jones’s dancethe­ater work, “Fondly DoWe Hope . . . Fer­vently Do We Pray” is a white cylin­der glow­ing in a black void. Formed by sheer drap­ery sus­pended above the stage, it is lit from the in­side, like a paper lantern. Then comes the dis­tant whis­tle of a train, and the shadow of a tall man in a top hat sweeps across the drapes as if they were a screen, a white wall. Translu­cence be­comes solid, bleached like the mar­ble of mon­u­ments. Jones’s piece, which the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Com­pany will per­form Feb. 24 and 25 at the Kennedy Cen­ter, is about the po­etry of Abra­ham Lin­coln, his en­dur­ing spirit and shift­ing mean­ing. But it con­tains whis­pers of Washington: The cap­i­tal’s ar­chi­tec­ture of praise, expressed in open space and white rock, echoes through an emo­tional vi­sion of the slain pres­i­dent.

Jones spoke re­cently about this sur­real and evoca­tive set de­sign, which he de­vised with his com­pany’s cre­ative di­rec­tor, Bjorn Ame­lan.

“I knew [the piece] was go­ing to be about a dif­fi­cult thing, ora­tions, but it would also be about ideas, about the pas­sage of time, about the abyss— be­ing on the verge of a war. How do you take ideas like this and give the dancers some­thing to do? I was ex­plor­ing dif­fer­ent ways to move around the stage as a group, at dif­fer­ent speeds. Bjorn said, ‘Why not make the floor in the shape of your chore­og­ra­phy— why not make it an oval?’ It was scary, be­cause we al­ways work with squares, but it was good to break out of the square.

“We’re also go­ing back and forth from the 19th cen­tury to the 20th, and the only source of 19th-cen­tury im­ages would be video. I didn’t want a cy­clo­rama scrim across the back — ev­ery­body has those. We could’ve also dropped a scrim in the front, which you’ve seen in Merce Cunningham’s ‘Biped,’ for ex­am­ple. How could we make it more tan­gi­ble of a place where the chore­o­graphic idea, this no­tion of a mael­strom, and the ar­chi­tec­tural space — the floor — meet? So that white floor grows up to be a cylin­der. Then we were look­ing for ways we could use it and get rid of it. Why not make it a se­ries of cur­tains, to be a beau­ti­ful, glow­ing vol­ume, and then move it away to have a more con­ven­tional pre­sen­ta­tion to the au­di­ence. That’s how we came up with these cur­tains, four pan­els that could be half-opened, com­pletely closed or com­pletely open. And the open­ing and clos­ing ac­quires mean­ing, be­comes a ges­ture. That’s when I find it ex­cit­ing.

“An­other thing that’s very im­por­tant through­out the whole piece: The dancer who por­trays Lin­coln is all dressed in white. We don’t usu­ally see Lin­coln that way. He’s like those 19th-cen­tury mar­ble mon­u­ments. White mar­ble, white space: This is a piece that is tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion fromWash­ing­ton, D.C. It is very self­con­sciously about an al­le­gory of great­ness and na­tional pride. Yet within it we have mod­ern dancers — they are godly, and they are all dif­fer­ent shapes and sizes. We ex­ist in this world of mon­u­men­tal­ity, which is lit­er­ally carved in stone — yet we are fluid. These con­tra­dic­tions are all in it.”


GLOW­ING AND FLUID: The set de­sign for Bill T. Jones’s show “Fondly DoWeHope . . . Fer­vently DoWe Pray.”




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