By Kathy Valin
Abstract, formal dance moves vied with gesture and language in Wednesday night's performance of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. Zane, who died in 1988, partnered with Jones in life and art to form the genesis of the 11-member company.
This well-known group, presented by Contemporary Dance Theater in the Aronoff's intimate Jarson-Kaplan Theater, undeniably made a powerful impact. The three dances and the dancers in them showed superb control and polish, and the overall mood was wistful and contemplative.
Two men, one of them Jones, gestured toward two standing women at the start of "There were..." the first and strongest of the three works. Speaking, Jones evoked a gentle, late summer of 1985, poems, breezes, sex and people dancing for him. "Please don't laugh at me," he adds as he leaves the stage.
To the spare music of John Cage for violin and keyboard, more barefoot dancers dressed simply in shimmering white moved mostly in pairs in non-codified dance steps with lots of articulation through bodies, sometimes graceful and sometimes angular, with flexed feet and hands. A woman moved center stage as others covered her eyes and heart with their hands. There were four-cornered formations like square dances, mysterious and evocative gestures. One couple had a prolonged kiss upstage. Springing jumps recurred.
In one long line, the dancers held momentary poses like a frieze. In other moments, they moved in kaleidoscopic formations, pulling out from each other in a mirror effect.
As a highlighted woman and man kissed and walked apart, he was visibly crying. "Only a handful saw the peach tree," said Jones. "Will they return to us across all those fallen flowers?" A touching last embrace on the floor between two women ended the piece.
"Mercy 10 x 8 on a Circle" and a companion piece were both based on a Flannery O'Connor short story about two country characters who get lost in the "big" city.
Special guest readers Rachel Lee Harris and Ryan Hillia, who travel with the company, alternated in reading the whole text of the story onstage with 10 dancers, who partnered portraying Mr. Head and his grandson Nelson. In "Mercy..." movement held sway; in its companion piece, the power of the text ruled supreme.
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