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Dance Review Print

New Work by Bill T. Jones at ADF

Paul B. Goode

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company in Analogy/Dora: Tramontane

Paul B. Goode

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company in Analogy/Dora: Tramontane

Event  Information

Durham -- ( Fri., Jul. 10, 2015 - Sat., Jul. 11, 2015 )

American Dance Festival (ADF): Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company
$51-$10 -- Durham Performing Arts Center , (919) 684-6402; tondu@americandancefestival.org; TICKETS: (919) 680-ARTS (2787) , http://www.americandancefestival.org/

July 10, 2015 - Durham, NC:

Bill T. Jones is one of the most intellectual artists working in dance, with wide-ranging interests in many topics surrounding the big ideas of freedom and repression. Often we have seen him investigating the ways that luck (fate) and active personal choices intersect as those major forces play out their eternal conflict. (Think all the way back to Still/Here, from 1994.) In Jones’ new work for the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, he continues that probing.

Analogy/Dora: Tramontane premiered June 18 of this year at New Jersey's Montclair State University, which commissioned it. This work also continues Jones' record of his reach exceeding his grasp. It's hard to fault that in an artist, but it does make for a certain amount of aggravation. The 75-minute piece, presented here by the American Dance Festival in the Durham Performing Arts Center, hasn’t quite found the internal balance for its combination of dance, theatrical movement and oral history. Although many of its parts are brilliant, and some powerful, all too often they offset each other's strengths: as an artwork, it does not feel whole.

Analogy/Dora: Tramontane is based on oral history interviews Jones conducted around 2002 with Dora Amelan, a Jewish survivor of World War II. (Amelan is the mother of the company's creative director Bjorn Amelan, and now Bill T. Jones’ mother-in-law.) Her story, while not precisely unique, is quite particular: a competent 19-year-old when the war began, she was active in her family's hotel business on the Belgian coast. We hear about its almost instantaneous collapse – the family's removal to Anterp; the difficulties of living in and of getting out of Belgium once it was overrun by the Germans. We hear about the combination of luck and skill with which she gets exit permits for herself and her sisters, to go to family in southern France, by then controlled by the Vichy puppet government. We hear of her recruitment by another Jewish woman to work for an organization trying to save Jews – children especially – from deportation. We hear, in remarkably flat language, about the French internment camps in which she worked; the luck that preserves her again and again from arrest; about her own case of typhoid; about her sister’s death. Ultimately, we hear about the grand celebrations of V-E day, and the antics of her cousin Marcel Marceau.

We see all this illustrated or abstractly portrayed in dance at more or less the same time as we hear it, though often movement follows speech. This had the odd effect of making this viewer wish the dancers would hurry, so we could get back to the story, and of wishing the speaker would hurry, so we could get back to the dancing. When dance and speech were simultaneous, it was difficult to watch the dance, due to the natural tendency to look at the speaker.

The information is at once too much (some bits we hear repeated) and too little (the story is given no place in the context of the complex web of occupation and resistance in southern France), and worse, from my point of view, was that the particularity of this woman's story was diminished, even trivialized by it being spoken by the many women dancers, as if it were Everywoman's story. (Some of the speakers were strong, but these people are great dancers, not great actors. Some of the line delivery was cringe-inducing.) It was perhaps an aesthetic choice to break the flow of story and action again and again – not an unreasonable choice when the subject is a life in wartime – but a consequence of this was to diminish or erase the inherent dramatic power of the verbal and physical narratives. And oddly, the sense of this woman's agency (in current argot) is not balanced with the sense of her luck, both good and bad. But maybe Bill T. Jones has come to believe that the great chess master, Fate, controls human actions.

There are some vivid passages of dance in the classic Bill T. Jones style – the long legs in long steps and lunges, the tender touching and bold consumption of space, the finely detailed action of hands and feet – and striking tableaux in which the dancers seem to press away a heavy atmosphere (similar to those in other major works, especially the piece on Lincoln, Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray). The dancers do handle the microphones and the necessary hand-off tricks very well (some of these are dazzling). Jones' interest in spatial geometry and physics is abetted by Bjorn Amelan's décor, which includes large panels the dancers lift, carry and arrange into walls, windows, doorways and barriers. The musical score by Nick Hallett, which includes original music along with French chansons and Schubert lieder, is very interesting in itself and provides wonderful support for the various dance-stories. The lighting, by Robert Wierzel, is strong and clear, and helps forward the action. All the pieces are there, but the arrangement of the mosaic fragments is not quite complete. It is possible that the moral and historical complexities Jones deals with here preclude wholeness, or that we will see the wholeness only when Jones' oeuvre is one day complete. In the meantime, Dora Amelan and Bill T. Jones are both still here.

This performance repeats tonight at DPAC. See the sidebar for details.