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Joanna G. Harris
Performance Reviews
Modern/Contemporary
Zellerbach Hall
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Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company - Story/Time

by Joanna G. Harris
February 24, 2012
Zellerbach Hall
Bancroft Way at Telegraph
(2430 Bancroft Ave.)
Berkeley, CA 94704
510.642.9988
Joanna G. Harris
Author, Beyond Isadora: Bay Area Dancing, 1916-1965. Regent Press, Berkeley, CA, 2009. Contributor to reviews on culturevulture.net
Bill T. Jones brought Story/Time to the stage of Zellerbach Hall placing himself at a desk center stage throughout the 70-minute show. He borrowed the idea from the composer John Cage, who, in 1958, read a series of one-minute stories. In 1966, Cage read similar stories while the Merce Cunningham Dance Company performed "How to Pass, Kick, Fall and Run." Cage never upstaged the dancers; he sat up-stage right ("How to…" was performed on the Zellerbach stage several times). Jones stayed center stage at all times.

A large clock suspended behind Jones ticked off the minutes. In Cunningham's "Ocean" a large clock also counted its 90 minutes. All artists borrow from one another, but these choices seemed too obvious.

The stories Jones told also tended to be weak and pompous, full of name-dropping and Jones' voice never varied in tone.

Worst of all the dancers were under lit and when not pushed of to the side obscured by Jones. They needed to be seen to be appreciated.

They were nine very good dancers who deserved much applause for accompanying Jones' storytelling, working sometimes to illustrate the text, sometimes to move beyond it. Shayla-Vie Jenkins, in red, had a solo that was strong and expansive and fortunately was placed downstage of Jones. Other dancers who stood out were LaMichael Leonard Jr. and I-Ling Liu.

With Jones' stories meandering from a concentration camp to the red light district of Amsterdam and from Jones' mother to the song "John Henry", it's amazing that the dancers kept going at all.

There were group 'rumbles' and short narrative moments, but for the most part, the dancers did not emerge from the background enough. It seemed like that right before each show, they were given a printed sheet with the minutes, the events and the locations on stage that directed their actions. Bright and beautiful as they are, that demand seemed a heavy challenge. Cunningham/Cage may have used chance operations, but the choreographic elements were clearly set before each number.

Jones, who has had many triumphs on TV, most recently with "Fondly Do We Hope.. Fervently Do We Pray"…a meditation on Abraham Lincoln and with the Broadway musical "Fela!", could now in his 65th year, give more time, space and attention to the dance. Move over, Bill and give the stage to Antonio Brown, Talli Jackson, Shayla-Vie Jenkins, LaMichael Leonard Jr., I-Ling Liu, Paul Matteson, Erick Montes, Jennifer Nugent and Jenna Riegel. Let's see what your conception and direction can give us in real good dance.
Photo courtesy Bill T. Jones Arnie Zane Dance Company

Photo courtesy Bill T. Jones Arnie Zane Dance Company

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