March 10, 1980
One of the many vital things about the dance upheaval of the ’60s was the choreographers began to think about perception and to goad (often with alarming literalness) audiences into seeing dance differently. I doubt if–pre-Judson–we would have known what to make of a piece like Blauvelt Mountain, made and performed by Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane. Now when we sit in the open, dimly lit space of ATL, looking at uneven wall of cinder blocks and the figures of two men in black huddled in front of it, we are prepared for–well, perhaps, anything. That the dimness has been provided by William C. Yehle’s skill with lights, that William Katz has designed the cinder block wall, that the quiet mutter of sound (at first, a voice quietly discussing an accident) is being created by Helen Thorington, that Jones and Zane have well-trained bodies—all this reassures us of professionalism at work; yet we still perceive, and relish, this event as a process, something these two men are working on together. The theatre becomes an urban clearing in which some rite inexplicably vital to us all is taking place. We do not demand to understand the “meaning” of what they’re doing at every second or strain to hear a sotto voce conversation the way we might in a large proscenium theatre; we do not sigh over repetition or wonder if carrying bricks is dancing. We do delight in noticing that we can never see the “same” movement twice, that it is always changing either because of context or because of humanness. And we see the performers at close range–close to eyes, minds, hearts.
There is something immaculate about the rhythm of Jones and Zane together. In move-stop, move-stop sequence of beautifully chosen simple poses on the floor, they make their changes with such economy that you see no extra little preparations or adjustments. Suddenly they have moved. But not with shrillness or mechanical precision—with the power and control of big cats. Jones, with his long limbs and lithe body, is a master of flashing through space and yet seeming to caress the place he lands, as if he can invisibly grade down and refocus his own impetus.
One of the things that the two appear to be most interested in is the changing appearances of things that are superficially the same. Jones’s move-pose sequence is one thing when he performs it while Zane is running through another phrase, another thing when he performs it with Zane’s complementary floor sequence, another thing when the two separate in space, another when he is faster and tireder. And with each alteration, the movement becomes more interesting; by the end of the evening it could be famous.
But repetitions like these never happen in a block; they stud the piece, crop up here and almost crop up there. It’s the same with the phrases each man can perform on a stool; they acquire a special coherence when seen at the same time. Once when Jones flicks his hand across Zane’s back, he might be brushing dust away; another time the gesture is more like a token massage.
Through the first half of Blauvelt Mountain, called “A Fiction,” the two men work at their dance tasks intently and thoughtfully, whether the tasks are small hand gestures, playful supports, talking, or acrobatic feats. Always you are aware of them as partners, even when they are dancing alone.
In the second act, “An Interview,” they underscore with words their concern with juxtaposing two elements to create a third meaning out of the union, or perhaps “the complete” meaning. Instead of Thorington’s softly stirring sounds, we have voices, first Jones’s, then Zane’s on two cassette recorders. Each recites a litany of questions and/or responses that don’t make linear sense. Towards the end, we get a dialogue: now Jones’s cryptic “what will she look like?” is a logical response to Zane’s remark that his friend Jacqueline will probably meet them (at the station, airport.)
During this section, Zane, wearing big gloves, builds a new pyramidal wall, brick by brick, perpendicular to the old one—dismantling one to make the other. He pauses from time to time, always keeping track of Jones, who dances and dances up and down along the wall that’s being built, back and forth across it to perhaps bang himself on the side walls of the room, or do his banging motions not against the wall. Once Jones walks out to reappear some time later from another door, carrying one brick, which he solemnly offers Zane. This isn’t exactly a parable of a worker and a drone, but, I suspect, and example of the same thing built differently—a brick wall, a dance wall. Then Jones begins a speech (improvised, I think) that mounts in speed and intensity until the words jumble around each other to create starling new sense. References to dance pioneers “Ted,” “Ruth,” “Martha” blend curiously with “they got me pregnant” (not untrue). During Jones’s fit, Zane follows him quietly, singing “Hey, ho anybody home . . . ” in Dutch, a thing they did together in canon at the start of Act II. At some peak of passion, darkness and silence descend so suddenly that the packed theater sits stupefied for what seems a long time. Then it takes another long time for us to flood them with all the applause we want them to have.