Bill T. Jones' witty work wins fans at arts festival

June 27, 1994|By J. L. Conklin | J. L. Conklin,Special to The Sun

At first thought, the Bill T. Jones /Arnie Zane Dance Company was a curious choice to appear at the Columbia Festival of the Arts. Mr. Jones' choreography is not popular the way past festival performers such as Pilobolis, Momix or even Garth Fagan are.

Mr. Jones' work has primarily appealed to hard-core dance fans such as dancers, teachers, ex-dancers or those who follow the art closely. Yet, the company's strong technical dancing and obvious exuberant enthusiasm for movement during the troupe's Friday night performance at Wilde Lake High School undoubtedly helped win new fans for this New York-based company.

Bill T. Jones' dancers are not your typical white-bread dancers. His ten performers are physically diverse. Where some dance companies strive for homogeneity, Mr. Jones' company is a collection of different body types and personalities. Some are small and compact, others are large and commanding -- but they are all powerful performers and technically sophisticated.

The four dances shown on the program spanned more than 10 years of company history. Audience favorites were the duet "Shared Distance," from 1982, and the exuberant closing work, danced by the entire company: "D-Man in the Waters," created in 1989. The balance of the program consisted of the opening work, "The Gift/No God Logic," a quartet inspired by the voice of BTC Montserrat Caballe singing Verdi's arias, and a recent company work, "There Were So Many," created in 1993.

Of all the dances shown, "There Were So Many" was the weakest on the program. Oddly enough, while the classic architecture-inspired images were compelling and the kaleidoscope symmetry of the eight dancers a well-worked device, there was also the feeling that the piece had been overworked. There was a surrealism, an almost Fellini-like quality, in the way the dancers performed grotesqueries, at one point sticking out their tongues like so many gargoyles.

It was "Shared Distance" and "D-Man in the Waters" that not only displayed the dancers' astounding clarity and stamina, but Mr. Jones' incredible choreographic skills.

To the dismay of the audience, Mr. Jones did not perform in the duet as scheduled. Instead, Josie Coyoc and Torrin Cummings delighted and amazed us with their talents.

"D-Man in the Waters" was the exhilarating and thoroughly delightful work that closed the evening. Throughout its three sections, images of beach life were refracted with Mr. Jones' own wit and discerning eye.

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