Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, choreography by Bill T. Jones with Janet Wong and the Company
Bill and I have been seeing each other for a while.
I first saw the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company in 2006 when they performed Blind Date in Madison, WI. I was in graduate school, and eventually, the dance became a central feature in one chapter of my dissertation. Since then, I’ve also seen Chapel/Chapter, Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray, A Rite, and Story/Time. I’m did not read any reviews before seeing this piece, but I did take the time to listen to this interview with Jones on KQED’s Forum with Michael Kransy. In it, Jones claims that this piece is a departure for the company. I am not sure how much of a departure this piece is from the others I’ve seen – abstraction of storytelling, text, and movement all seem to be at play in this work too. This work is a story and a telling of that story via Jones (with Janet Wong and the Company). There is no doubt that Jones is telling this story.
First, some orientation (thanks to the program notes). Analogy/Dora; Tramontane is based on the oral history conducted by Bill T. Jones with Dora Amelan, “a ninety-five-year-old-French-Jewish women” recently “awarded the French legion of Honor of her World War II activities as part of O.S.E., a Jewish organization dedicated to saving children that was first established in 1917 and went underground in France during the war’s occupation.”
Like most pieces I’ve seen by Jones, I found myself watching with my ears and listening with eyes. There is a distinct abstraction between what is being spoken or sung and what is happening on stage. The text, Amelan’s oral history, is spoken out loud by different dancers as they move about the stage – her story has more than one voice – it moves. Amelan’s history unfolds as a series of vignettes accented by the mobile set pieces that are rearranged by the dancers. Perhaps invoking the labor of history/memory making. I don’t remember much about the dancing; it seemed to get eclipsed by the abstract storytelling and striking music (performed live by Nick Hallett and Emily Manzo). Jones, it seems, likes to make his audiences work and because of that, the lovely dancing doesn’t always get noticed. Brian Siebert’s review of Analogy/Dora; Tramontane in the New York Times only devotes 4 sentences to the dancing. I am still trying to figure out if this is ok.
Since seeing this piece, I can’t help but think about my German grandparents; they survived WWII along with my mother. They never liked to talk much about their experiences. So much of their histories were willfully lost. I wonder – there must be countless untold stories. Is history ever complete? Who gets to tell history’s stories? Who owns history?
In many ways, this is what Jones does best – he provokes questions. More accurately, he brings audiences to questions by re-making and abstracting stories, histories, and politics. For now, this is enough to keep me coming back to his work.