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Bill T. Jones

Bill T. Jones

Modern transcendence

by Stephanie Rieke

From the January, 2003 issue

New U-M president (and former Iowan) Mary Sue Coleman should feel right at home when the Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane dancers grace the Power Center stage Saturday and Sunday, January 11 and 12. Last seen here in 1998, Jones and his company have made Iowa City a habit, premiering an impressive number of dances there, including the three new pieces to be performed in Ann Arbor. The artistic support that Jones and so many other world-class choreographers found at the University of Iowa resulted from the far-reaching vision of its former performing arts administrator — since lured away to be the big-picture guy at the American Ballet Theater — and Coleman's unflagging commitment to the arts during her tenure as president.

Jones's projects are often identified with the biographical (The Breathing Show) and the provocative (Still/Here), but his new work is notable for the absence of polemics and of overt personal references. Traveling with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and featuring the Orion String Quartet, the company is also superbly accompanied by live music, an element sorely missing from most theatrical dance these days.

Verbum opens both of the company's slightly varied programs. From half handstands with little beats to the simple expressiveness of a bent elbow, Jones's dancers manifestly assert every part of their bodies with bouncy inventiveness. Each step and section effortlessly leads to the next. A mostly back-to-the-audience solo takes authoritative command of the stage with a soigné flow and spiky elegance characteristic of Jones's dance-making style. Three squiggly standing frames, designed by artist and longtime Jones collaborator Bjorn G. Amelan, shape the elastic tenor of the movement as the dancers shadow the Beethoven score (String Quartet in F Major, op. 135).

WORLD II (18 Movements to Kurtag) is indeed another world. Revised and pared down from its original, the piece operates on a number of levels — conscious and subconscious — and invites a variety of interpretations and

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reactions. But whatever Jones unpacks in this dada-inflected grab bag, it only enhances the cocktail-party theatrics of ritual and release.

An entr'acte solo of focused intensity and expansive eloquence leads directly into the January 12 finale, Black Suzanne, a punchy gymnastics routine of tumbling, canting, and running that devolves into a stylized wrestling match of warriors. As usual, Jones isn't interested in unison steps. Instead, his dancers operate in symbiotic relationship to each other, both inhabiting their own space and readily sharing it. Full of brio and purpose, the two "teams" may be read as a study in clan strife and cooperation.

Closing the January 11 program is D-Man in the Waters (1989, revised 1998), Jones's timeless tribute to the memory of company dancer Demian Acquavella, set to Mendelssohn's buoyant Octet in E-flat Major for Strings, op. 20.     (end of article)

[Originally published in January, 2003.]


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