Live review | Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company: “Body Against Body”
This review is of “Body Against Body,” Program A, on September 29, which consisted of Monkey Run Road (1979/2011), Valley Cottage: A Study (1980–81/2011) and Continuous Replay (1977/1991). A second bill during Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company’s weekend engagement at the repeats Replay alongside Duet x 2 (1982/2003) and Blauvelt Mountain (A Fiction) (1980/2002).
In a better America, late 2011, the revised but still-three-decade-old dances comprising “Body Against Body” wouldn’t be so countercultural but here we are and so they are. When they’re unclear, it’s in a way that invites consideration of complexity; they’re not unclear because they’re masked or a mess or unfinished or simply have nothing to say. When they present the naked body—and, for a good part of Replay, you’re looking at naked bodies—it’s not to quicken pulses about something that wouldn’t otherwise engage. Instead of placing same-gendered actors in boilerplate heterosexual situations to teach lessons of tolerance via “they’re just like us,” Cottage casts a man and a woman inand, hey, that also works just fine, see? Real diversity is onstage and it doesn’t feel false, like those commercials where a white actress pulls out her cellphone to call her black friend and then her Asian friend and then someone brown. It just feels honest about talent not knowing color.
Even talent isn’t the point (although this company doesn’t want for it). These works question memory, intimacy and identity and they don’t provide answers because that’s always up to you. In its beginning, Road surrounds two men’s actions with enough stillness for these actions’ echoes to change shape in the mind. Then, once we learn and recognize the piece’s steps and text, this material comes again, faster, broken up, reorganized and interrupted. It trusts us adults to know how to pay attention. Its nuances are the point. It affirms our retention of the ability to focus.
In Cottage, Paul Matteson (revelatory) and Jennifer Nugent (spectral despite her imposing physique) are incredibly generous; my companion burst into tears afterward and I wasn’t far behind. In Road, Talli Jackson—tall, deep-voiced, a pillar—seems blank at first, but as the piece progresses his restraint falls into sync with the rhythms of the duet’s enigmas. Erick Montes delights drawing curlicues atop this base coat.
Montes then reappears as if a locomotive, as “the clock” in Replay. This person—himself tugged forward by blocks of light appearing in sequence, devised by Robert Wierzel—leads the ensemble along the perimeter of the stage and remains naked while the rest gradually acquire black then white costumes (by Liz Prince, plain as in the other works, almost to the point of being undesigned). Seven guest student-performers help fill the stage for Replay and, while they aren’t of this New York company’s members’ caliber, they do well. A new score performed live by Chicagoan Richard Woodbury, a collage that crescendos from cough to junkyard fanfare, helps the piece feel contemporary in spite of somewhat-dated semaphore moves.
But then, hey, which is more dated: Semaphore moves run through now-standard-issue choreographic algorithms or backward assumptions, fueled by fear, about race, gender and sexual orientation?