Even in this age of laissez-faire post-modernism, Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane make an unlikely dance team. Jones is tall and muscular; at any speed, his dancing looks expansive and flowing--generous but almost impersonal. Zane is short and wiry; he performs in bursts of nervous energy--edgy and idiosyncratic.
These characteristics of personal style define the extremes in "Freedom of Information," a vibrant 90-minute, three-part Jones/Zane collaboration presented Friday at Wadsworth Theater in the UCLA "New Directions in Dance" series.
Like Tim Miller in "Democracy in America," Jones and Zane conflate political events and individual experience, beginning with an ironic text (written by Jones, spoken by Zane) that alternates talk of missiles with anecdotes on dance.
Again like Miller, they methodically examine the multiplicity of viewpoints in American life--conveyed here by a compilation of dance idioms: the unprecedented number of disciplines and traditions alive only in our society.
To taped music and sound effects by David Cunningham, six dancers (including Jones but not usually Zane) execute isolated poses and phrases that define ballet, jazz, rock, colloquial, social, modern dance, gymnastic and parade-ground movement forms. These forms overlap, the overlaps recur as patterns, and soon the dancers are talking about the emergence of post-modern dance--a form often engaged in deconstructing, distilling and reconceiving traditions.
Indeed, this process occupies the final section of the piece--an explosive assimilation-finale in which the costumes of the opening section have changed from silvery mauve to glossy black and all the separate movement samples have merged in a surging new pangenetic form.
Let's call it JonesZaneDance, for its components aren't detachable and the mix even includes abstract film-animation sequences for additional fireworks. Hot stuff, but the dancers don't fall into the Broadway trap; their dancing remains something for them to show, not sell. Only the last section of Twyla Tharp's "The Catherine Wheel" makes the risk, rigor and abandon of contemporary American dancing more awesomely exhilarating.
Though it offers its own anthology of contrasting movement forms (among them, mock-pornographic sex-and-violence pantomime), Part Two of "Freedom of Information" depicts a crowded urban world where different, unrelated activities occur simultaneously.
Designer Gretchen Bender has expressed the physical essence of this world in a large cattle pen made from gleaming aluminum girders. Dancing inside, around and on top of this set unit, the company explores some of the danger, frustration, defensive isolation and forced interaction of city existence.
Again, the performers often give us not whole actions but brief poses--"snapshots" that communicate bits of data without providing coherence. This is the brilliantly realized Jones/Zane view of the dark side of our vaunted freedom of information: an overload of facts and a dearth of insight.
Eventually the cast members upend the pen and it becomes a high-tech picture frame enclosing their mini-society--a portrait of an social structure that demands the effort of absolutely everyone to keep it from collapsing.