Dance is political in ‘Play and Play’

by Apoorva Dixit | 1/6/14 4:57pm

A dancer stands motionless on stage. He is the clock. First, one dancer appears and performs a gesture. And another, then a third. Others emerge, an accumulation of “people, ideas, clothes” on stage, Janet Wong said, associate artistic director at Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company.

She is describing “Continuous Replay,” one of three repertory pieces that the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company will perform at the Hopkins Center on Tuesday and Wednesday. The inspirations for the dance, a beautiful manipulation of form and space, include avant-garde and post-modern dance, martial arts and personal tragedy.

The piece, originally choreographed in 1977 by Zane, a co-founder of the company, was later re-adapted by Jones after Zane passed away from AIDS-related causes in 1988.

Many of the company’s pieces will challenge audiences’ expectations for dance, Hop programming director Margaret Lawrence said.

Jones, she said, was one of the first choreographers to explore dance’s political power. Jones and Zane did so at a particularly charged time in American history — the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s.

“[Jones] took a very strong stand as an individual as a gay man, as a black man, as an American,” Lawrence said.

Another piece that the group will perform, “D-Man in the Water,” is inspired by a daydream Jones had in which he encountered a friend submerged underwater, Wong said. The piece was named for a dancer named Demian Acquavella, who died from AIDS-related causes after the dance’s debut.

The piece aims to capture the “vocabulary of being in water,” as well as the spirit of Acquavella, a “flamboyant gay man in New York who wore a tutu with combat boots, who became ill and melted away,” Wong said. The company leaves a hole in the first movement to represent how Acquavella’s space can never be replaced.

Despite the heaviness of the material, Jones manages to portray hope in his choreographies, especially through his choice of music, Lawrence said.

“Jones created a piece to this beautiful, jubilant music — Mendelssohn’s ‘Octet in E-flat Major for Strings, Op. 20’ — in a way to say ‘I see a future. I am daring to look forward to a place where there is happiness,’” she said.

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company is unique for the way it incorporates dancers’ energy and input into the creative process, an attribute that has helped it achieve critical and commercial success, Wong said.

“We don’t just tell them to move their right arm,” she said. “The pieces are a collaboration.”

In its over 30-year career, the company has performed worldwide in over 200 cities and 40 countries.

The company’s forward-looking program would not be possible without the continued leadership of Jones, a “forceful and articulate figure in this country,” Lawrence said.

“Jones was one of the first contemporary dance-makers to really leave behind the idea that all dancers should look physically similar and really beautiful,” she said. “He was looking for people and great personality, people with something to say and a great presence.”

The Hop show will feature live music by The Borromeo String Quartet. During their visit to campus, Jones and Wong will also lead an open dance class midday Tuesday, pre-show talk Tuesday evening and panel discussion Wednesday afternoon.