Monday, March 12, 2012

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company: Story/Time

 “Raise your hand when you think one minute has passed,” requested Bill T. Jones of the audience at Zellerbach Hall in his pre-performance speech for his company’s new work Story/Time.  Jones brought out the stage manager with stopwatch in hand and the audience fell silent as they tried to determine the length of one minute as timed by the stage manager.  Hands progressively rose until the stage manager said, “Time,” and the audience chuckled and shifted, and Jones said, “That’s all you need to know about tonight’s performance.”  Story/Time performed the weekend of February 24-25 by the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company consisted of 70 one minute stories told live on-stage by Jones, while the company of dancers performed choreography around the storyteller and a musician electronically distorted the sound of Jones’s voice and periodically created accompanying soundscapes.   The work was inspired by John Cage's Indeterminacy, the stories told and the choreography dances are chosen randomly before the performance and paired by chance.  As satisfying as the idea sounds, knowing the length of one minute was not all that was needed to know the performance. 
The 70 one minute stories that made it by chance into the night’s performance can be easily categorized as cultural and political.  These two categories are a very kind euphemism for name-dropping.  The majority of what Jones had to say dealt with dining, drinking, and socializing with other rich and famous people who hold incredible clout in the worlds of art and intelligentsia.  Whether it was intended or not, the innate political nature of money, art, access, and privilege within the stories were projected onto the bodies of the dancers.  Regardless of the movement changing from performance to performance, the implicit and explicit meaning of the sixty-second sound bytes became integral to the nature of the movement, even if its creation was without textual support.  When Jones was not discussing the livelihoods of wealthy artists, he often discussed the destitute poverty and institutional racism as experienced by himself and his family (prior to his success).  Once again the cultural politics of race, class, gender, and access are imbued onto the dancers via the storytelling.  This relationship was explicitly apparent in the one story that was told twice verbatim and then inverted to a scenario involving the dancers.  The story dealt with a poor family being evicted from their home while an evil landlord and his goons rape and pillage.  Along with the repetition, this story seemed decidedly removed from chance operations as the choreography very much acted out the story and the props were assembled in the semblance of a living room.
Contextual and theoretical critiques aside, I believe the company is one of the strongest modern dance companies currently performing and touring.  The dancers perform beautifully as an ensemble and each offer a unique movement quality to Jones's choreographic style--a mixture of release technique, ballet, and yoga.  Also, although the stories themselves were markedly exclusive, Jones has one of the best voices for storytelling.

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