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Abstract look at disaster in `Bow'

Bill T. Jones' drama moves through time, with stories and music set in contemporary and emotional tones.

October 07, 2006|Lewis Segal | Times Staff Writer

Combining his genius for dreamlike, stream-of-consciousness contemporary dancing with a career-long commitment to social issues, Bill T. Jones' "Another Evening: I Bow Down" is an abstract full-evening dance-drama about living through turbulent times and letting catastrophe inspire positive action.

On the stage of USC's Bovard Auditorium on Thursday, Jones and nine members of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company joined actor-writer Andrea Smith, composer-violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain, pianist Wynne Bennett and the fierce rock band Regain the Heart Condemned for this new, intricately scored exploration of acceptance and transcendence.

Counting backward, year by year, from ancient times, Smith reached 2043 BC and the moment, Jones told us, when God sent the great flood to destroy everything on Earth except Noah and his ark. Told and retold, that story linked up with other water-borne calamities in the text: the sinking of the Titanic and the burst levees in Mississippi back in 1927.

Other texts invoked the Buddhist pantheon and its rule over the extremes of existence -- but Jones included personal reminiscences as well. And just as the score ricocheted from assaultive to lyrical and back (eventually incorporating recorded Wagner), these intimate-to-apocalyptic spoken passages conditioned the group dancing with their contrasting energies.

Loose-limbed and flowing -- looking improvised even when everyone moved in unison -- the dances initially seemed a layer of gorgeous filler in the work's multidisciplinary mix: less emotional than the music, less linear than the texts. Soon, however, the choreography became its own form of testimony: the expression of feelings and perceptions that shaped personal identity.

The solo passages for Erick Montes proved especially vibrant, speaking of a consciousness passionately engaged with the world. In contrast, Asli Bulbul seemed to internalize everything, reshaping experience into cool, contemplative statements. And Jones focused on gestural haiku: sharply defined positions (including a clenched fist) that might have represented a gallery of images from his past works.

In the Wagner section, the dancers linked up in formations suggesting cooperative and even heroic relationships -- people getting through hardship or danger together. Layered onto the music, recorded sound-bites from news sources brought us suddenly up to date: "Every life is precious," "leadership makes a difference," "get us out of here -- help us."

Smith counted forward now, into the future, and the dancers began exiting through Bjorn G. Amelan's red double doors at the back of the stage, as if the years of their deaths were being announced. Jones repeated a speech from early in the piece about people becoming the stories that they tell -- and how, if they're good or lucky in life, they get to play all the roles: the lover and the beloved, the mourner and the mourned.

Obviously, Jones, his collaborators and company must be good as well as lucky, for they definitely got to play all the roles in "Another Evening: I Bow Down." Moreover, they all indisputably became the story they told: the story of how we're bearing up in a feverish post-9/11, post-Katrina millennium where, indeed, leadership makes a difference and every life is -- or should be -- precious.

If we're now on a very slippery slope or even at the edge of a precipice, Jones showed us how to stay in balance, and that feat alone made his piece indispensable.


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