Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company at Jacob’s Pillow
July 21, 2010 performance reviewed by Jocelyn McGrath.
Serenade/The Proposition (2008) is the second piece in a three-part series of evening-length dances, conceived and directed by Bill T. Jones and commissioned in honor of the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. Choreographed by Mr. Jones with Janet Wong and members of the Company, Serenade/the Proposition deftly incorporates dance, historical language, video imagery and live music composed and performed by Jerome Begin, Lisa Komara and Christopher Antonio William Lancaster. Additional music by Mozart and Julia Ward Howe, traditional folk tunes, as well as spoken text written by Abraham Lincoln, Clement Sulivane and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., all are layered into a dense, evocative structure – key words and images resonating between motion, sight and sound. 2014 Jacob’s Pillow schedule, Contact info. and links
This performance is a tender and tense exploration of the nature of history as collective human memory. Some ideas are hard to grasp logically, and the feeling that history is something far away, something distant from us, is a common perception.
Using the intuitive intelligence that brilliant art accesses, Mr. Jones radically demonstrates that history doesn’t just rest “back there” in time and space, but exists in complicated relationships between location, culture, and personal narrative.
Clear, iconic images repeat throughout the piece—columns, fire, bare branches tracing patterns against the sky, ruined brick walls of bombed out buildings. Excepting the contemporary introduction of the piece, a starting point in our own place and time, the palette on stage is a strong contrast of black, white and red. The costumes are period, but not straightforwardly authentic—they are oddly detailed or half-constructed—as if to emphasize that they too are only interpretations of another time’s style.
Light and darkness is used to define space, and to show time passing. A glowing strip of space cuts the stage in two, and this corridor becomes the intermittent site for shifting tableaux of characters. A couple embraces. A man raises his arm, finger pointing to the sky. A woman cradles the head of another who seems to weep.
In motion, the dancers’ configurations alternate between struggle and support—the relational weight-sharing tells a story that changes so quickly we are left with a sense of emotional overflow. Pulling, lifting, leaning, struggling, reaching—the ferocity, longing, and desire are manifest in the vital importance of these actions. In one scene, a woman fights her way through a slowly advancing line of people to dance on the other side, then fights her way back through the line to be on the first side again, then repeats this desperate mission over and over again. A man runs to catch falling dancers, one by one, laying each gently on the ground.
The one striking modern video image is that of a median line flashing by as if we are driving on the highway—a graphic metaphor of history as a road to be traveled. As such, the same portion of history looks very different living forward in time or traveling back into memory. In the dance, retreat and reversal are played out literally, as bodies jump forward, then immediately jump back winding and unwinding like special effects in a primitive movie. Real events can’t be undone, but there is a sense of backing up into previous moments to seek a true beginning.
The most recent of many awards, Bill T. Jones was honored with the 2010 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award at the start of this summer’s festival (2010 Jacob’s Pillow schedule). Mr. Jones is quite simply an exceptional artist fully realizing his powers of creation. To see this living work is to experience something to remember and cherish.
This piece runs an hour and a half without intermission.