70 stories in 70 minutes. Bill T Jones is in town to R & D his latest work, Story/Time. Inspired by John Cage’s performance in the 1950’s of 90 stories in 90 minutes, Bill T is launching from there yet absolutely putting his singular mark on the concept.
The stage is dissected, taped into numbered boxes. A table sits on center. This has been a production residency, meaning that the piece benefited from exploring technical aspects like lighting, smoke and an actual stage space. This showing feels like a performance and other than the rehearsal garb, there’s nothing to tell you otherwise.
The performers set in a blackout. Lights up and the dancers are in designated spots, posing like pedestrians yet with extra attitude and state-of-being awareness. Bill T sits at the table and begins to read from a notebook. A clock upstage center tracks the minutes. Green apples are eventually revealed.
The dancers’ slow beginning allows us to concentrate on the stories. Though retired from dancing, Bill T is still a magnet. His voice enters our heads and we learn about episodes of his experience or of those closest to him. He excels at portraying other people, painting their pictures, turning his voice into theirs. He becomes his mother, Arnie Zane, John Cage, a tall white man with a penchant for winking and racially slurring.
Sometime around about minute 15 or 20 the dance becomes denser. Bodies begin to collide in partnering, outlining and implying relationship. At times it’s too layered to absorb it all but that may be the point. During one particularly magical running sequence/accumulation, we watched and heard a sound score only, a welcome relief.
We see these dancers think as they work, probably in part because they just learned this particular order of events this week. But it’s an aspect that I hope remains. They are so busy thinking that they cannot inadvertently slip into overdramatization. We see them think as we hear Bill T recall. It’s a lovely and subtle connecting thread, a through line of sorts.
There are moments of alignment, like when a male duet is executed while we hear about a duet that Bill T and Arnie used to do. And like when a scenario happens involving a couch and missed mortgage payments. The scene is replayed three or four times, traveling through the space and reinacting from the literal to the abstract yet becoming aurally more specific as the dancers’ real names get used. A compelling device, one that lets us in on the process and the game.
Some stories link up or are continued, many minutes later or in back-to-back chunks. Other events stand alone. Silences pepper the action as does stillness (or near to it with that lovely leaning). There is nostalgia, reminiscing and current eventing. There is space for our thoughts to wander, to contemplate our own concept of a minute, the suspense of that and what we could possibly discover if we took the time.