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Dance Review : Jones/zane Troupe In 'Secret Pastures'

January 14, 1985|SHELLEY BAUMSTEN

You can tell the tide is turning when Next Wave choreographers Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane provide a libretto for their new full-length work, "Secret Pastures," seen Saturday at Wadsworth Theater. Both the libretto and the action were cryptic, but no matter. The plot served purely as a pretext for the dancing, which was splendid, and for Jones and Zane's theatricality, which was suspect.

Dance motifs repeated and recombined in the minimalist mode formed the movement base, liberally embellished with quotes from ballet, disco dancing, gymnastics, and the flashdance style. The influence of video choreography was pervasive: graphic, angular poses, stop-start rhythms, and mostly side-to-side movement design.

But MTV never looked this good. The 11 Jones/Zane dancers were astonishingly able-bodied and versatile, physically and technically strong, and theatrically confident.

The troupe was also tireless. It had to be, since the story line of "Secret Pastures" kept the frenzied action going constantly. Again, the video influence was evident in a series of gang adventures that were largely without meaning or consequence.

A Frankensteinesque relationship between the Professor (Zane) and the Fabricated Man (Jones) came closest to providing an organizing principle for the narrative, but even here the death of the Professor at the hands of his creature was inexplicably reversed and he rejoined the action.

For a generation raised on Saturday morning cartoons and accustomed to Top 40 TV, no explanation may be necessary. The video parallels are telling, since "Secret Pastures" is part of Jones and Zane's well-publicized plan to reach a broader audience.

Collaborators of note are another part of the push for popularity. Designer Willi Smith did the streetwise costumes. Graffiti artist Keith Haring did the sets, principally a 10-panel fabric construction intended to frame the action onstage. Unfortunately, it framed the action in the lobby instead. According to a company spokesperson, the set wouldn't fit the Wadsworth stage, so UCLA audiences got shortchanged once again on promised production values.

Happily, the audience did get the full benefit of Peter Gordon's taped score, which supported the mixture of movement styles with rock, jazz, pop and folk music along with voices and noises deftly layered on a minimalist foundation.

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