Not many companies can hold an audience’s attention for seven hours, but choreographic genius Bill T. Jones never disappoints. Over the week end, his Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company presented a marathon, seven-hour trilogy at Royce Hall. Made up of three 90-minute works, Analogy Trilogy is a meditation on memory and suffering. Jones uses gestures to explore human relationships in three narratives. The dancers artfully manage his intricate choreography while moving props, reciting monologues, and singing. Each dancer embodies the memories and the qualities of the three stories.

Analogy/Dora: Tramontane recalls the story of Bill T. Jones’ Jewish mother-in-law, Dora Amelan, who worked as a nurse and social worker for an underground Jewish organization during the Holocaust. The dancers slip into soft and sensual movement, weaving among shifting set pieces. Sequences of harsh, militaristic walking interject the minimalistic music and tenderness of the choreography, alluding to the violence of the German invasions. Even as Dora’s narrative grows increasingly horrific, sensual duets occur across the stage. The choreography emphasizes the serendipitous moments of kindness Dora encounters as she struggles with the exhaustion of her work. Dora explains these moments of kindness “softened the harshness of life.” Still, the presence of the Holocaust presses upon the dancers as they shiver inside a metal cube built onstage. Dora’s cry reigns “People don’t change.”

Artists of Bill T Jones / Arnie Zane Company in Pretty, <i>The Escape Artist</i> © Reed Hutchinson | Cap UCLA
Artists of Bill T Jones / Arnie Zane Company in Pretty, The Escape Artist
© Reed Hutchinson | Cap UCLA

After a short intermission, the nine dancers start up again for Analogy/Lance: Pretty aka the Escape Artist, which introduces Bill T. Jones’ nephew, Lance. Once a student on full scholarship at San Francisco Ballet School, Lance struggles with drugs and leaves ballet to become a stripper and sex worker. Company dancer Vinson Fraley, Jr., takes on Lance’s alter ego “Pretty” as he prances around the stage in an all-white sweat suit and red socks. The dancers comment on the movement styles of party culture as they explore gender-subverting flamboyance in hip hop fusion. The music takes on African American vernacular, featuring songs written by Lance himself. Underneath the flamboyance and hip-hop movements, a sense of predatory aggression pervades. There is a twisted vulnerability in the way the dancers change costumes onstage and perform duets with metal poles. Balletic movement haunts the piece as if to remind Lance of what he left behind. 

The show breaks for a dinner before we return for the final installment of the trilogy. Analogy/Ambros: The Emigrant weaves in the words of W.G. Sebald to explore the eccentric, or as Bill T. Jones’ voiceover clarifies, the queer. The work returns to the origami of the set pieces, and the dancers’ gestures echo movements from the first two parts of the trilogy. When dancer I-Ling Liu begins to sing, the tone of the work changes. The dancers join in a harmony with the musicians and vocalists, taking on the story as their own rather than recounting a foreign narrative. Their process reflects on the act of reading, of dissecting the meaning of words in an artistic and intellectual way. Out of their movements grows a reflection on religion, race, and sexuality, exploring identity in a work of massive coordination.

Artists of Bill T Jones / Arnie Zane Company in Pretty, <i>The Escape Artist</i> © Reed Hutchinson | Cap UCLA
Artists of Bill T Jones / Arnie Zane Company in Pretty, The Escape Artist
© Reed Hutchinson | Cap UCLA

During the second work, the narrative voiceover articulates “You’re not an artist until you’ve turned the ugly of your life into something beautiful.”  Bill T. Jones weaves together the threads of suffering with movement, music, and visual effects, creating a tapestry of meaning in his storytelling. The seven-hour production challenges the audience’s attention span but captivates with its attention to detail and coordination. Analogy Trilogy begs the audience not to succumb to the numbness of suffering. Instead, the works demonstrate the life found in suffering. Mining memories for art, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company preserves immense beauty in these tender movements.

****1