CREATIVE PEAKS: Elegant Adversity

By on June 7, 2016

Bill T. Jones returns with a performance that tackles tough topics.

Infused with unique narrative elements and impressive body mechanics, the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company performances have become an anticipated summer event. (Photo: Eric Politzer)

Infused with unique narrative elements and impressive body mechanics, the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company performances have become an anticipated summer event. (Photo: Eric Politzer)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – The latest dance by Bill T. Jones opens with a gay club scene. The year is 1978. Dancers kick and twist around the space, sometimes coming to the edge of the stage to posture and check out the other clubbers. Their movements are upbeat and playful, expressing the exuberance of the times. Their joy belies the dark tale to come, the carefree 70s teetering on the brink of an AIDS pandemic that would devastate a generatio

The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company is back in town this week, for the third summer running. They’ve brought the second in a trilogy of dances, co-commissioned by Dancers’ Workshop. Analogy/Lance: Pretty aka the Escape Artist explores the life of Jones’ nephew, Lance T. Briggs, a former dancer, model, songwriter, choreographer, exotic dancer and male escort. The company presents a preview performance at the Center Theater on Sunday, June 12.

Lance is a far cry from the World War II story in Analogy’s first segment, Analogy/Dora: Tramontane, which Jackson audiences saw in progress over two years. Dora told the tale of Jones’ husband’s mother, who worked at an underground Jewish organization in the internment camps of Vichy France.

Jones excels at the art of revealing the universal in the personal. His work about living with HIV, Still/Here was the subject of a documentary by Bill Moyers and David Grubin entitled Bill T. Jones: Still/Here with Bill Moyers in 1997. Jones’ extensive career includes many top honors like a MacArthur Genius Award and a National Medal of Arts. He has been named “An Irreplaceable Dance Treasure” by the Dance Heritage Coalition.

“Bill is really interested in the human condition and how we deal with adversity,” Dancers’ Workshop artistic director Babs Case said. “I’m anxious to see how he addresses this subject matter.”

The subject matter of Lance is not easy. It contains drug abuse, exploitation of children, and prostitution. Lance exposes us to a type of war different than Dora’s. Lance’s battlefield was the club culture/sex trade underworld of the late 1980s and early 1990s. This “pretty boy-gangster thug” finds a way from addiction to recovery, but not without enduring damage along the way.

Dancers’ Workshop development director Amanda Flosbach says the issues Lance grapples have the ability to resonate with a broad spectrum of audiences. “In talking to several local mental health providers, we’ve learned that addressing addiction, the sex trade, HIV/AIDS, and questions of self worth and identity is, perhaps in surprising ways, relevant to our community,” she said.

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company arrived on June 6 and will be in residence at Dancers’ Workshop all week. The company is also offering an open rehearsal with a Bill T. Jones talkback session and master classes.

“With every residency at DW, it is our goal to provide diverse pathways of access to community members of all levels of interest and ability,” Case said. “We believe it is our responsibility at Dancers’ Workshop to support and present the creation of new and compelling work to our community.”

Part of Jones’ inspiration for Analogy: A Trilogy is a novel by the German author W.G. Sebald, The Emigrants, in which four narratives of German Jewish exiles merge into one when seen as a whole. With Lance, Jackson audiences can reflect upon how their perceptions of periods in history change when specific times and stories are presented alongside one another. What do the 1980s in an urban American club scene have to do with a young Belgian Jewish woman during WWII?

Case noted that Lance has visual and structural elements that are very similar to Dora, but stylistically, and in terms of subject matter, the pieces are very different. In Lance, the ensemble is most often all on stage together, carving shapes, developing a sort of vocabulary for the narrative. As Lance’s story unfolds, it appears that the dancers are holding space for him. The choreography often feels elegant, balletic.

Jones is known to push boundaries, or even break boundaries and develop new forms. The addition of the narrated text of Jones’ interview with Lance (and Dora in the first Analogy segment) is a challenging component. The pedestrian reading of the text can feel flat. Yet at the same time, the simple, matter-of-fact tone of the interviews anchors the drama and makes the story palatable. It’s a risky choice to include this element. But Jones’ commitment to the reality of the human condition shines resolutely through.

“I admire Bill so much,” Case said. “I’m excited to watch him work firsthand. It’s such an honor for all of us to have the company here and watch them work. And I’m excited to share all this with the community.” PJH

The preview performance of Analogy/Lance: Pretty aka the Escape Artist is 6 p.m., Sunday, June 12 at the Center Theater. 733.4900; jhcenterforthearts.org.

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company will give a free open rehearsal with a Q&A 5 p.m., Friday, June 10, at the Center Theater. The company will offer Master Classes 6:30 p.m, Wednesday, June 8 and 10 a.m., Saturday, June 11. $25 per class. Call 307-733-6398 to register.

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About Meg Daly

Meg Daly is a freelance writer and arts instigator. She grew up in Jackson in the 1970s and 80s, when there were fewer fences, but less culture. Follow Meg on Twitter @MegDaly1

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