Modern Maturity

The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company (Aaron Davis Hall, June) took a host of elements dear to Jones's heart—spoken word, improvisation, carefully crafted movement—and blended them with recorded Beethoven, scores by John Oswald and Laurel McDonald, and original music provided live by guest Cassandra Wilson, the troupe's music director Daniel Bernard Roumain, and jazz bassist Curtis Lundy. The result, Another Evening, constituted a tour through the past, present, and future of a company now celebrating 20 years of innovative dance theater. Simple strategies yielded powerful results, primarily the duets now evolving for Mercy 10 X Eight on a Circle, which repurposes the choreography for another new work, due to premiere at the American Dance Festival this summer. Jones chanted, Wilson sang, Roumain and Lundy plucked fiddle and bass, and the remarkably diverse dancers, on a bare stage, displayed their fluency in styles drawn from yoga, contact improvisation, street dance, and Jones's dramatic sensibility. Another Eveningwhetted the appetite for whole dances old and new, coming to the Kitchen and BAM next season.

Another anniversary provoked 13 Sounds, 25 Years, a new documentary about H.T. Chen & Dancers that premiered during the troupe's June La MaMa season. At 21 minutes, it played like a remarkably well produced home movie, not inappropriate for a company firmly grounded in community outreach. Also on the program was Chen's 1993 Opening the Gate, to a score by Bradley Kaus, which brought back Chen's wife Dian Dong and other guest artists, including Sharon Estacio, to fill out the cast. A baffling new work, Fifth Wall, has a commissioned score by Ushio Torikai. Eight dancers carried orange screens into the big space, eventually hanging them on hooks at the sides, where they became part of Jennifer Varbalow's set design. The engine of this piece seemed to be music, not movement; a flutist moved among the dancers, and various breathy, droning sounds accompanied a series of encounters and acrobatic moves that ebbed and flowed without exhibiting any clear intention. Pushing the edge of choreographic expression may not be on Chen's agenda, but he keeps his strong dancers moving.

Two new works and an older one, all to music by Steve Reich, made up Doug Varone and Dancers' "Face the Music and Dance" season at Symphony Space (June 5 through 7). Several of Varone's incredibly fleet dancers have recently moved on—their replacements are equally fluent—and the imminent departure of one of them, Larry Hahn, may have inspired Distance, a duet for him and the choreographer, in casual clothing and street shoes, that shared the stage with violinist Elizabeth Lim-Dutton. In a central corridor, bordered by six stage lights on tall stanchions, Varone, the smaller of the two, began by touching Hahn in those limited ways sanctioned by our homophobic culture. They could be a couple of guys at a barbecue or a softball game, except for the intense and almost symbolic nature of their gestures—hands on hearts, fists clenched, arms folded, a back deliberately turned. The almost unbearable avoidance of resolution leaves both of them, and the audience, feeling bereft. This work will be reprised on Varone's program this week at Jacob's Pillow.

The second premiere, Of the Earth Far Below, was a complex ensemble work that gave Reich's "Triple Quartet," played live, a run for its money; dressed in gleaming black by Liz Prince, the eight dancers tumbled over themselves and each other, more forces of nature than humans in particular situations. This gusty style of choreography is typical and vintage Varone; as busy as Distance is still and somber, it illustrates the depth and diversity of one of our masters.

 
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