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Jacob's Pillow
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Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company - "Serenade/The Proposition" - Impressions of the Civil War

by Wendy Goldberg
August 6, 2010
Jacob's Pillow
358 George Carter Road
Beckett, MA 01223
413 243 0745
The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company has forged a multi layered fusion of dance, live music, oratorial reading, graphic film and intense lighting with an evocative set of white fluted columns reminiscent of the Lincoln Memorial. The side wings are open so the audience can see the black scaffolding and lighting panels, as well as the dancers walk offstage and rest out of character.

An ambitious project, the choreographer portrayed different aspects of the Civil War experience with his dancers by having them form a frieze, sometimes a tableau, symbolizing different sections of the work. After the first frieze, the dancers broke off into threshing movements,conjuring up images of slaves in the fields, working tirelessly with hardened overseers.

The dancers pulled in together again, held their frame for a few moments and broke into comforting loved ones, wounded from the war. Next came a swirling fist fight and the slain lying abandoned.

The choreographer moved back and forth from the past to the present with his black and white photo on the background scrim, of current slums, crumbling with busted windows in the foreground, and a tiny Lincoln Memorial at the top….barely seen. A small silhouette of Lincoln fluttered on the sidelines of the scrim….more of a stamp quality caricature than a deep portrait of the President and his excrutiatingly hard choices, or his personal woes and tragedies.

Back to the past, we saw possessive owners dancing with their slaves, abandoned women, soldiers marching to loud drums, the white columns change to black barbed wire fences, then fiery spires of destruction. During one freeze frame, a slave woman tries to break through and is taunted, thrown down, but finally pushes her way to the other side….where she thinks she is free, only to be whipped by domineering, nasty slave owners.

After another tableau, the dancers clap and twirl, satirizing a dixieland fancy ball. More struggles between a man who begins to emerge as an 'everyman' while the women, in mourning emphasize the magnitude of the sacrifices and bloodshed of the War.

During all this, a magnificent Orator speaks words from Lincoln's Gettsburg Address, the Battle Hymn of the Republic and commentary on how both sides of the Civil War read the same Bible, prayed to the same God, as each invoked His name against the other. Both could not….he said quietly….be right.

The singer had a glorious soprano voice that grabbed the audience's attention quite frequently as she was accompanied magnificently by the classical accompanists. The music was so moving, that in fact it distracted from the dancing on stage, rather than enhancing it. And while the Oratory was deeply moving and sonorous, it too distracted from the dancers. Perhaps if the choreographer had let his dancers hold their tableaus a little longer, while the singer and speaker regaled the audience, it would have enriched the dance, rather than conflict with it. The photography and lighting was used quite effectively to focus on different aspects of the war.

After listing all the cities and towns involved in the fighting, and watching more vivid scenes of bloodshed, and mourning, on both sides, we were brought up to 1955, and what these places meant to a young Bill T. Jones…..'so this is Virginia'.

While I think the choreographer tried to capture the essence of what the Civil War meant to the North and the South, to the soldiers and the women, to the free men conflicted, and to the struggling slaves….we are left with the feeling that we still have a great, long road ahead of us that we need to struggle through to get from the large, and largely ignored plight of the slums, to the barely seen light of the Lincoln Memorial in the far distance, a tiny star to shoot for. Though the dancers moved fluidly, and eloquently, emotionally evocative, and while they covered much ground, much of the progress fought for in the War has stood still. Bill T. Jones was there to remind us, in a beautiful pastiche, that there is much work to be done.
Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company's Serenade/The Proposition Dancers (Left to Right): Paul Matteson; Peter Chamberlin (being lifted); Maija Garcia

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company's Serenade/The Proposition
Dancers (Left to Right): Paul Matteson; Peter Chamberlin (being lifted); Maija Garcia

Photo © & courtesy of Paul B. Goode


Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company's Serenade/The Proposition Dancers: LaMichael Leonard; Antonio Brown; Peter Chamberlin; Erick Montes; Shayla-Vie Jenkins; I-Ling Liu; Leah Cox

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company's Serenade/The Proposition
Dancers: LaMichael Leonard; Antonio Brown; Peter Chamberlin; Erick Montes; Shayla-Vie Jenkins; I-Ling Liu; Leah Cox

Photo © & courtesy of Paul B. Goode


Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company's Serenade/The Proposition Dancers (Left to right): Peter Chamberlin; Shayla-Vie Jenkins; Leah Cox

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company's Serenade/The Proposition
Dancers (Left to right): Peter Chamberlin; Shayla-Vie Jenkins; Leah Cox

Photo © & courtesy of Paul B. Goode

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