Sunday, March 31, 2013

BTJ/AZ—Music and Movement, Pure and Not-so-simple

Erick Montes Chavero shows good form in D-Man. Photo: Paul B. Goode
Bill T. Jones has strong opinions and isn't afraid to express them, both in his public appearances and in the works for his company and on Broadway. Sometimes this makes us forget what a good pure movement maker he can be, but Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane & Company's two-program run at the Joyce (through April 7) reminds us as it emphasizes formal work to classical music. The live performance of the Orion String Quartet is a big bonus. The run celebrates 30 years, and is titled Play and Play: An Evening of Movement and Music. Well, make that two evenings.

D-Man in the Waters (1989) was restaged after languishing for a dozen or so years. It was originally created amidst the scourge of AIDS as a tribute to one of the afflicted dancers who was doggedly battling the disease. This approach of embracing life at its fullest rings loud and clear, and by the end, I wanted to collapse in a heap alongside what must be completely exhausted, if fulfilled, dancers. To Mendelssohn's Octet for Strings in E-flat major, the dancers scissor their arms in front of their faces, and run in loops to form a self-perpetuating line. Physical virtuosity, busyness, a sense of community, heroicness, and an irrepressible lust for life are paramount. A signature of the work is a bow shaped flying jump, as if the dancer was flung, ribcage leading, from a trebuchet, embodying joy and defiance.

In D-Man, Arthur Aviles led the original company, which spawned a number of accomplished choreographers. Many made cameos in Continuous Replay (1977/1991), the epic naked-to-clothed accumulation dance to Beethoven arranged by Jerome Begin; on March 26, following Erick Montes Chavero as "The Clock" or leader, alumni included Aviles, Heidi Latsky, Larry Goldhuber, and Sean Curran. And while BTJ/AZ is, if anything, more diverse than ever, these alumni underscored how personality-driven the original company was, particularly with both Jones and Zane performing. (Aviles celebrates his 50th birthday with guest appearances in the first movement of D-Man on two dates; both he and the piece received Bessie Awards in 1989.) The program began with Spent Days Out Yonder (2000), to Mozart, which played with upstage and downstage silhouettes and horizontal crossings.
The second program featured two premieres, both interestingly with choreography credit to Jones with Associate Artistic Director Janet Wong and the company. In Ravel: Landscape or Portrait? Bjorn Amelan's set design—the edges of a cube delineated by lines and tape (evocative of Alex Katz's metal framed cube for Paul Taylor's Polaris)—felt like a house with eight occupants who formed expanding and contracting clusters. Jennifer Nugent, invaluable for her physical wisdom and inner complexity, held up fingers to count, marking some secret deadline. She vogue-tiptoed across stage, quoting D-Man. A pattern of foliage is projected on the entire front wall of the Joyce, extending the stage far beyond the proscenium, like a Sleeping Beauty set gone rogue.

Nugent cradles Leonard in Story/. Photo: Paul B. Goode
Story/ taps the anti-structure of "a random menu of movement," according to program notes, paired with Schubert's Death and the Maiden played by Orion from an upstage corner (they otherwise were seated in the "pit," such as it is.) Amelan here lays down a grid of tape to form 12 squares, which are lit selectively and precisely by Robert Wierzel. Dancers follow the leader in snaking loopy lines and big lifts (Chavero is the most frequent soarer and general instigator; Joseph Poulson, the loner here). In choreography for groups, Jones has always excelled at coaxing the gaze through space with rhythmically timed movements, and this is no exception. Parallel quartets move as if in alternate universes; a green apple mostly held by I-Ling Liu becomes a colorful focal point in a primarily grayscale world. Nugent and the large, lyrical LaMichael Leonard Jr. share a tender duet—an intricate, unspooling filament of rolling, spinning, sliding, and an odd donkey ear gesture. 

It's a dense dance, especially situated at the end of the second program—but then again, what by this company isn't, unless it's simply a shorter dance? It was a treat to see Jones' pure movement to classical music in a concentrated bloc.

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