Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company
“Another Evening: Serenade/The Proposition,”
Performed at ICA/Boston
October 24–26, 2008
The Bill T. Jones/Anie Zane Dance Company has been established for 25 years and is renowned as a driving force in the modern dance world. The last weekend of October, the company performed a piece, “Another Evening: Serenade/Proposition,” at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.
“Another Evening: Serenade/Proposition” is in part a commemoration of Abraham Lincoln’s legacy. The dance incorporates his documented words, the writings of his contemporaries about him, and other texts that epitomize his ideas, through both musical background and spoken word. The dance company was accompanied by a electric cellist, a pianist, a sopranist, and pre-recorded oration.
When the dancers stepped onto the stage, the organic atmosphere was striking. The dancers carried a note of androgyny: they were barefoot, clad in simple black pants and solid-print American Apparel-like tees. The movements of the dancers were so fluid, with a casual elegance that belied the hours I imagine they had put into rehearsal.
The complexity of the dance was masked by their effortlessness. There was no pretension, no stiffness — while ballet is lovely, the stuff of modern dance lies in a whole different realm. There seemed to be no rules or stringent beats that they had to adhere to. However, the dancers coordinated wonderfully with the music and each other.
The interaction of the dancers amongst themselves was probably one of the most impressive pieces of their dance. There were many moments of the performance when all that was visible were blurred spinning forms and an entanglement of limbs. Dancers often leapt upward into the air, while being hoisted by two or three other dancers. Their lightness was incredibly impressive. As they tumbled and twirled across the stage, their footsteps barely sounded.
While I was initially puzzled as to how audio recordings and music would be incorporated without detracting from the dancers, I later found that the background activities only contributed to the mood. The vocalist, Lisa Komara, had a soul-moving voice and the singularity of it only made more impact. It was accompanied by piano, violin, and a tastefully incorporated keyboard bit.
The company also blended film into the pastiche of media. It served as a backdrop for a portion of the piece, a panoramic view of a place from the historical past. In a later scene, the film would cast attention to the dancer while also contributing to the ability of Lincoln’s legacy to continue beyond the ages.
The ability to mix so many mediums while not overwhelming the audience was a noteworthy feat. The clean effectiveness of the set and costume design was highly significant in making it all work successfully.
While there were a few moments when I was initially confused about the content of the recordings that played in the background, I later realized that it took pieces of different texts and constructed a loose narration of Lincoln’s history and the history of Lincoln’s time. I discovered the seemingly random locations spat out by the recording to be the names of battles fought in the Civil War.
The dance explicitly meditated on certain themes: conflict, unity, and the significance one man can make in history. At the same time, however, some thematic elements may have been a bit abstract for the audience-members not keen on analyzing and theorizing. It was by no means a dance that laid out concrete ideas for the audience. Like the fluidity and looseness of the dancers’ movements, the performance too was loose and open to interpretation.