Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, on tour

Written by:
Alyssa Schoeneman
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Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company

Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray
Krannert Center for the Performing Arts
Urbana, IL
November 18, 2009

bill t. jones_11-09

    Spending an evening with Bill T. Jone’s “Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray” can be likened to rereading a favorite book.  The work’s recurring themes and sense of narrative enhances its depth, clarity and multidimensionality; the piece successfully engulfs the viewer in a world of civil injustice and passionate discord.

    Fondly… began in total darkness as singer Clarissa Sinceno entered from the audience, slowly descending a steep aisle of stairs. Sinceno’s haunting voice saturated the theatre, enhancing the ghostly ambiance of her single panning flashlight.  A sheer partition encircled dancers onstage, selectively shrouding bodies and highlighting others in lucid silhouette.  Jones projected text on the partition throughout the performance, juxtaposing the warmth of handwritten script against the sterility of typeface.  
It is evident in his company’s performance that Jones settles for nothing short of absolute conviction in his choreography.  At the same time, he has a keen sense of resolve when it comes to structure.  Solos performed to live spoken narratives were enhanced by moments of “stop”; stillness allowed for resonation of both the dancers’ movements and of actor Jamyl Dobson’s full-bodied voice as he told their stories.  Jones took his time to present his dancers one by one, a process that established their differing backgrounds and opinions within the context of the piece.  This feature enhanced and deepened onstage interactions, and climaxed in a section of fervent debates.  Ever-inclusive, Jones also recognized Dobson’s story in a monologue that began, “I am one of them.”

Solo movement vocabulary varied between individuals but had the common thread of strong dynamic shifts.  The isolation of a dancer’s pointed foot or of initiation from a single limb alluded to a previous anatomy-laden monologue.  A dancer in yellow pants punctuated his solo with sharp angular body positions and knee-taxing choreography on the floor.  A suspended transition through grand plié took the dancer into a bony crawl on all fours; the same sequence was repeated later in the piece with in more defeated context.

Soloist Paul Matteson portrayed Abraham Lincoln with a distinguished softness, almost catlike in his soundless landing of buoyant jumps and turns about a diagonal axis.  During Matteson’s solo, Dobson directed him to repeatedly halt his momentum mid-turn.  This created a humble showcase of Matteson’s technical prowess and stability, notably desirable characteristics of a young revolutionary leader. 

Dancers built an undulating sense of fluidity in the second of two sections, entitled “The War.”   An early series of triangular prismatic formations allowed company members to support one another both emotionally and physically, through weight-sharing and other related partnering.  Small trios and quartets behind the draped partition conjured bodysurfing imagery; seamless lifts carried dancers horizontally across the stage in a sea of ironic calm. This section would have proved to be a strong ending for the piece.  
Unfortunately, the following, final scene was somber and predictable, adding an overdramatic flair to what was an otherwise bitingly bittersweet program.  Perhaps Jones should have listened to Dobson and “stopped” a bit sooner.

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