To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnightreviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, dancer-choreographer Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Thursday night’s performance of Story/Time by the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!
I have lots of experience seeing things multiple times. It’s a loaded thing. You get an idea in your head, there’s expectation, and that is layered into your repeated viewing.
I did not love Bill T. Jones’ Story/Time the second time around. Like a relationship I once had, I just didn’t…feel it.
Mind you, before last nigth’s show I did not:
• re-read my blog post from the fall and thus reminisce about all the things that sent me and that worked
• sit in my theater seat with my heart in my throat, yearning for another moving experience
• plan to not love it
But what I’m doing now is asking myself how this happened. Here’s what I loved the first time:
• those stunning, thinking dancers
• all the accumulations, of stories, movements, episodes…
• the apples
• the poetic non sequiturs
In fact I still love all of the above. But somehow, this time around, those elements are still just that, elements that do not add up to a sum greater than the parts.
Still love the dancers. I mean love. These are some of the best you will see anywhere, so human and superhuman at once. They are real people doing amazing feats with languid virtuosity, limbs unfolding, long and quick, slow and fast at once.
The accumulations still send me, especially a circular pattern that keeps reversing direction as it traverses the stage in a great flock of bodies. At any given time several of the nine dancers are accomplishing the complicated and gestural movement phrase. As one dancer drops it another picks it up, and so it goes and it is wonderful.
But here’s the thing: that particular passage occurred a lot earlier in last fall’s work-in-progress version. That happens to be where I “fell in” to the work before. Last night however it occurred later, too late.
Which perhaps says more about me than Bill T. Maybe it takes stunning and kinetic movement gymnastics to capture my heart. But somehow I think not. Here’s what I suspect happened:
Due to the partially random nature of Story/Time, the fact that the 70 one-minute nuggets are ordered differently and against different stories at different times, my guess is it sometimes strikes a magical balance of satisfaction and sometimes doesn’t. It’s always a gamble. There are enough built-in elements that work, in isolation and in relationship, that allow the piece to hang together in general, but this time I was not, well, moved.
Other people were, visibly and deeply. But I could not help comparing it to my first, flushed experience and finding it come up short.
I think this is also a case of too many production elements. Why the costume change for some and so near the end? Why the aural layers so multiple that one text could not be distinguished from another? I suppose that’s what memory is made of, swaths of murky materials salvaged from the stuff of our lives.
I think mostly I missed some of Bill T’s stories. We heard some doozies before. There were squishy ones of prejudice and complicity. There was hilarity. All that specificity, the naming of names, allowed the other elements to read as more deeply meaningful. Last night felt thinner, shinier, more glossed over and produced.
I’m so glad I saw it. I’m thankful, really, that it exists, as a work of art and as an experiment. Not everything works all the time and for all viewers.
The thing about love is that it must have breathing room. Sometimes we have to allow space and time to intervene, even at the cost of letting go.