SPOLETO REVIEW: Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company Perform Modern Dance Classic

Final movement of D-Man in the Waters In its fourth year of performing at Spoleto (1989, 2001, 2006, 2016) the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, known for its innovative approach to contemporary dance, did not disappoint in their performance of two unique pieces of choreography on Saturday, May 29th. As the lights went down at the beginning of the first piece, titled Story and choreographed by Jones in 2013, the 9 member dance company posed on stage with one member of the Spoleto Festival Orchestra who then took his place onstage alongside three other quartet members accompanying the dancers.

Purposeful, athletic, and classically modern are some of the descriptors Bonnie Boiter-Jolley, soloist with Columbia City Ballet and contributing dance editor to Jasper, used to describe the dance, adding that the choreography had almost a tribal or animalistic feel to it. Sparse group vocalizations added to the totemic ambience of the piece, sometimes catching the audience off-guard and reinforcing the reality that a corps of dancers of this caliber can easily and seamlessly sequence from performing as unique individuals to performing as a single unit--a hive-brained organism with grace and finesse.

"There is no meaningless movement," Boiter-Jolley says, as she traces the formula of the phraseology being used. "Each section had its own vocabulary and each dancer knows and uses that vocabulary throughout the choreography. There is nothing random--it's all very specific."

Boiter-Jolley points out the quote from Jasper Johns that introduces the first piece of choreography in the program, "... take something and do something to it, and then do something else to it ..." and notes how it explains the creation of the dance, explaining that this common technique was used frequently when she danced with Spectrum Dance Theatre under Donald Byrd in Seattle, as well as with Columbia's Wideman-Davis Dance, Thaddeus Davis having trained under Byrd himself.

The second act of the performance found the orchestra in the pit and the dance company performing D-Man in the Waters,  a classic piece of modern dance. First created in 1989, D-Man in the Waters is dedicated to Demian Acquavella, a 32-year-old company member whose valiant fight against AIDS inspired the piece. Acquavilla died in 1990 but the piece has continued to be performed by various companies, including Alvin Ailley, over the decades, always introducing the multi-faceted spirit of Acquavilla onto the stage. It should also be noted that Arnie Zane, Jones's partner in dance and life, had died of AIDS in 1988, as well.

Set to Mendelssohn's Octet for Strings, the dancers are costumed in cammo fatigues to symbolize the ongoing battle against AIDS. Much of the phraseology focuses on mutual assistance with dancers tumbling across one another and clinging to one another to stay afloat. The final sequence depicts the corps of dancers tossing a featured dancer high into the air as the lights go out. Powerful stuff indeed.

Company members include Antonio Brown, Rene Butler, Cain Coleman, Jr., Talli Jackson, Shane Larson, I-Ling Liu, Jenna Riegel, Christine Robson, and Carlo Antonio Villanueva.