Dance Review: Bill T. Jones and the Arnie Zane Dance Company performing ‘Story/Time’ at Wolf Trap by Carolyn Kelemen

“All art is informed by a spiritual impulse,” Bill T. Jones told fans at a Columbia Festival of the Arts workshop in 1994, which I attended. “Language and idea and emotion transcend intellectual discourse. We keep trying to find a way to sort through it,” Jones said.

Bill T. Jones during 'Story/Time.' Photo courtesy of Wolf Trap.

This reaffirmation of core values isn’t the only change the now 60 year-old Jones has undergone since we last saw him dance in our area. He seems to have found a new voice: the time-tested power of spirituals. And, his kinetically charged works have explored the tension of American prejudices, the ravages of AIDS, and his own journeys of love, loss and spirituality

All that came together at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center last night when Bill T. Jones and the Arnie Zane Dance Company performed the Washington premiere of  Story/Time, choreographed by Jones, assisted by Janet Wong and the 10-member company (which still lists Jones’late partner Arnie Zane in the cast list). The musical score – a bit strange and violent at times – was composed by Ted Coffey. Lighting Designer Robert Wierzel added extra dimension to the one-level piece with flashes and smoke throughout.

As a performer, Jones’ long, lithe body and intense projection make him one of those dancers who can stand perfectly still on stage and not lose the audience’s attention. But as serious as he is, every once in a while you can catch him smiling in performance, as if wondering silently, “Hey, Arnie, are you watching?”

The new piece, inspired by the image Jones holds of John Cage in his 1958 musical composition, Indeterminacy in which the avant garde musician sat alone on stage reading an unbroken stream of one-minute stories to another small audience. Last night, Jones sat in a similar desk relating stories from his childhood, especially tales of his mother moving the family from Florida to the north then west where his siblings still live. There were also sad reflections of the horrors of all God’s children. And, of course, his anger towards the ravage of AIDS still haunts this brilliant artist.

“I still sing the blues,” he admitted by phone from his rural New York home, “but not so much as before.”

Jones prefers to allow for as much spontaneous movement as possible in his performances. Story/Time (stories, choreography, and music) is similar toTed Coffey’s Chance Dances but differ with Jones making sure the dances relate to the stories he is telling on stage. Like Cunningham’s “Ocean” at the Lincoln Center Festival in 2005, Jones employs a ticking clock to advise the audience just how long the piece will run. Unlike Merce’s work which ran backwards, we see clearly the moment of change from the movement of the dancers to the stories told.

And oh how the dancers can tell a story. I loved the blonde and redhead dancers bouncing about and fearlessly jumping on the guys. One tall male dancer displayed a Jones-like aloofness in his movement, but deferred with his balletic lines and high flying leaps.

No word yet where Bill T. Jones is heading next – but I promise to keep you posted.


Running Time: Approximately 75 minutes.

Bill T. Jones and the Arnie Zane Dance Company played one night at Wolf Trap at The Filene Center – 1551 Trap Road, in Vienna, VA. on Tuesday, July 31, 2o12. To view upcoming events at Wolf Trap, check out their calendar.

Wolf Trap also produces the creative site-specific Face of America series, filmed on location at various national parks around the country. Upcoming dance events are scheduled for the Everglades with Spirit of South Florida with David Parsons Dance Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012. In 2016, there will be a huge retrospective that will mark the centennial of the national parks system.

So why drive to Virginia to see a dance concert? Maybe because Wolf Trap’s Filene Center is the outdoor venue for classical dance within 100 miles or more. Or maybe because it’s the only national park that is dedicated to the performing arts.


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