Sunday, February 14, 2016

Revisiting a groundbreaking work

A rare appearance of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company in Philly at the Painted Bride.

Revisiting a groundbreaking work

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By Merilyn Jackson

Two duets dominate the three-piece Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane program that opened Thursday for a weekend run at the Painted Bride. Duet x 2 (1982) began the evening; Blauvelt Mountain closed it. Jones recently combined these works, along with a few others, under the title Body Against Body and presented them at the company's home, New York Live Arts (formerly Dance Theater Workshop). They look as groundbreaking and timeless as they did at their world premieres three decades ago.

Jones' huge following knows that his lover and choreographic partner, Arnie Zane, died of AIDS in 1988. The two co-choreographed the two other pieces, but Duet x 2 is solely Jones' work. In it, after rocketing out of a set of swinging doors, Antonio Brown and LaMichael Leonard Jr. abruptly halt and pace about. Soon they shuffle, soft-shoe, and spar with each other until they slam back out through the doors. Leonard returns, this time with the buttery-limbed Talli Jackson; they repeat many of the bruisingly strenuous phrases, but it seems more and more manipulative - as it goes with relationships.

Repetition and relationship mark Blauvelt Mountain too, with seriously playful skipping and prancing by Erick Montes Chavero. He is adorably deadpan as he walks over Jackson's chest and belly-bumps off the taller man's shoulder, Jackson putting enough spring into it to send Chavero bouncing like a rejected cat. Jackson directs a teasing ronde de jambe at the audience, ends with a daring leap into Chavero's arms - and then, darkness.

The stunner of the evening was the 1977 Continuous Replay, by Jones and Zane and revised in 1991 by Jones. It begins with a few quick-tempo, almost cartoonish bars of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring by Plunderphonics composer John Oswald. Jenna Riegel, "the clock," comes out naked and tight-fisted, elbows bent for work, lunging mechanically in profile across a band of light upstage. One by one, the others streak by her and join her machinations - mostly Nijinsky-like geometric phrases with the same driving intensity as Rite. Eventually they go haywire, donning bits and pieces of clothing, but Riegel keeps the time until she's made her way around the stage, ending abruptly in freeze frame.

A new full-length Rite of Spring by Jones and Anne Bogart premiered last month in Chapel Hill, N.C., and goes to BAM in September. Won't someone bring it here?

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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