Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company performed on Saturday night at The Egg in Albany.
There are few companies more willing to go out on a limb than Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company. Thus, in all of my decades critiquing dance, I find it difficult to define this amazing ensemble. The ineffable Jones, whose work once again surprised on Saturday night at The Egg, remains indescribable.
Jones’ skill is honed by skirting on the edge of spirituality, delving into the essence of humanity – its glories and horrors – in a way that is not obvious. Jones bids you to come to him, to sit, to listen, to see, dodging conventional lanes that other dance artists consider compulsory.
It’s part of what makes “Love Re-Defined” from 1996 so charming. This is a folksy work that touches on the need in all of us to be loved – not in the romantic way – but in the deep visceral sense. What’s interesting is Jones selected songs written and performed by Daniel Johnston. They are not beautiful – at times off-key to an accompanying accordion — nor are they particularly danceable (generally, important for a choreographer to consider a score.) They are simple, repetitive and oddly sweet.
And in Jones hands and in the bodies of the outstanding nine members of his company, the work becomes an ode to love.
The dance is set in white with a black silhouette of a plant blossoming its first delicate tendrils. What strikes one first are the dancers themselves – Huiwang Zhang especially. He is supple, agile, strong – able to move every muscle in a way that the audience not only sees, but gasps at. Then one realizes all of Jones’ dancers are like that. They are an extraordinary group that elevate Jones’ art, message and mystic.
The work has two sections that are particularly moving – one in which the singer tells us the story of King Kong and how “they shot him dead.” Jones’ king wore a white hoodie, and one couldn’t help drawing a parallel to Trayvon Martin – shot dead for being who he was.
The finale is beautiful with the singer repeating the Biblical passage that defines love: “Love is patient and kind. Love isn’t jealous or boastful. It is not arrogant or rude…” As one dancer scuttles about alone and away from the crowd, another spreads open an arm to her. She comes and is embraced as the lights dim.
The company also performed “Story/” from 2013, a jumble of athleticism and grace involved in sport. With the floor lined like a court or field, Jones’ outstanding dancers romped, tumbled, posed and wrestled to Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden.” With an occasional ball being tossed between them, the dancers once again showed off their skills as super athletes.
The audience happily sat back and enjoyed.