Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company

The Phantom Project

by Jenai Cutcher

September 19, 2003 -- The Kitchen

“We liked old things,” Bill T. Jones tells us as he opens last Friday's performance of The Phantom Project at the “new” Kitchen, as opposed to the “old” Kitchen, where Jones and partner Arnie Zane debuted their work in New York City twenty years ago. By way of celebrating the company's 20th anniversary, Jones has re-staged several of the works the pair created back then.

With a few old photos of Jones and Zane, sporting old hats from Amsterdam, and a few anecdotes from Jones about their life in these old hats, we are primed for a trip back in time with our friendly, familiar tour guide and looking forward to a more enlightened viewing of the works that helped make him so trustworthy in the first place.

Jones has told us many stories over the years. This is the story of the Jones and Zane of another time. It is self-reflective:  the story of how their company was born, told by their company as it is now. The Phantom Project represents their history and their present, but it is also part of ours – the dance community's. While many were present to see these events take place twenty years ago, many of us were not, most especially those dancers working today, including some in Jones' own company. At best, these works may have been seen on video and studied in a college course, but what an interesting way this is to help us understand how we got to where we are.

Past and present converge quite literally in "Valley Cottage." The back wall is split with two identical images of Jones performing the dance in 1980. A member of the company joins each image of Jones onstage, performing the same choreography. All versions are true. If two dancers who perform well together are said to have chemistry, how do you describe the same phenomenon when one dancer is two-dimensional and performing 23 years ago? Whatever it is, it takes place during Zane's role in the duet, as Asli Bulbul performs it live.

Repetition as a choreographic device figures prominently in the rest of this concert. Sometimes it becomes tedious, but for the most part, it engages the audience in the material. Its dominance in these works is also quite telling of Jones's and Zane's thought processes back then and what sort of larger trends they were setting.

"Duet x 2" is danced admirably, first by Denis Boroditski and Malcolm Low, then Boroditski and Germaul Yusef Barnes. In this way, repetition becomes a sociological experiment: how different the same choreography looks when one partner is replaced by another. Although physically gratifying both times, the piece moves more mechanically with the first pairing than the second. Boroditski and Barnes sense each other's nuances and understand the space they share more intimately; when they are together, they are together and when they are apart, they are together.

Repetition in the form of accumulation appears also in "Continuous Replay (A Portrait)." Known to Jones and Zane as" Hand Dance" when Zane made it in 1977, the choreography consists of forty hand and arm gestures added to the series one at a time as the dancer travels the periphery of the space. Ayo Janeen Jackson's punctured, geometric execution of these phrases is impeccable, the rhythmic repetition comforting in a ritualistic sort of way. Shaneeka Harrell's variations on the phrases behind her keep the orbit fresh.

1980‘s "Blauvelt Mountain (A Fiction)" feels like “a day in the life of.” What we now know about the partnership of Jones and Zane, extrapolated from stories, photographs, dance, and a poem of Zane's read by Jones, culminates in this piece. As Catherine Cabeen and Leah Cox dance it, this work presents us with several co-existing truths. Again, repetition is at work on a very large scale. One cycle of the material takes the audience and the dancers through myriad situations and emotions; each time we return, those results are multiplied. In seeing the same thing repeatedly, the eye locks in to certain landmarks and we can notice how these scenes have shifted with the passing of time, becoming more comfortable or more charged. Whispering turns from a tense situation between audience and performers to a more inclusive and casual affair. Once we become familiar with the routine and see what they're up to, the secret isn't so secretive anymore.

The choreography, while at once depicting the universality of human relationships, is also uniquely Jones/Zane. We can see the two of them or Cox and Cabeen or the phantoms of our own relationships dancing onstage. But the intimate gestures and unusual cadence of the choreographers pervade, so much so that it is easy to deduce which performer has assumed which role.

The most important function of repetition in The Phantom Project is as tribute and celebration. After 20 years of generous contributions to the art form and its community, the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company is fully entitled to a little reminiscing and re-creating. It's a pleasure to be able to share in that, to reciprocate the generosity and rediscover the partnership that was, and still is in many ways, Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane.

Edited by Holly Messitt

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