The best art makes you stop and think about your life. When the wind is right, it can even change the way you think about life. And, after an evening with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, I can justly claim such an experience.
Bill Jones is an extraordinary artist who, for the past 30 years, has mixed choreography and storytelling in unprecedented ways, and with unforgettable results. Tonight, he offered two recent works at Celebrate Brooklyn, both of which packed a forty-gallon punch. In Blind Date (2005), Jones overtly criticizes the Iraq war, complete with camouflage and onstage casualties. The musical accompaniment was Bach's deceptively serene Violin Sonata No. 1, played live by Amie Weiss in a remix by mutli-instrumentalist Daniel Bernard Roumain, who provided accompaniment on laptop, violin and piano. (They were also joined by Akim "Funk" Buddha, who provided throat singing and percussion.)
The main event of the night was Another Evening: I Bow Down (2006), in which Jones juxtaposes the disaster of Hurricane Katrina with both the biblical tale of Noah, as well as that of his own upbringing. The dancing in the 80 minute piece was superb, but the true genius lay in Jones' choice of music. I mean, who, in their right mind, would think to combine the overture to Wagner's Parsifal with an onstage hardcore band: the Bronx's Regain the Heart Condemned? The battle between the two sent this particular listener into an ecstatic trance, with Wagner emerging as the eventual victor. (For good measure, Jones stripped to his waist and threw Regain's lead singer, Oscar Rafael Vargas, around like a rag-doll.) More meditative music was also supplied by contemporary Russian composer Anton Bagatov.
In the piece's extraordinary conclusion, Jones stands on stage and counts forward the years, starting with 2007. The wonder in his voice increases with each passing year - 2020...2030...2040... - leaving us all to wonder which exactly will be our own end date. In case the message was at all ambiguous, Jones encouraged us all to live life to the fullest, with the hope that we get to see it from all sides before we pass.
Jones won this year's Tony Award for choreographing Spring Awakening, and half-jokingly claims that his 90 second appearance on primetime TV reached more people than his entire 30 year career in contemporary dance. (You can watch his wild acceptance speech here.) One can only hope the 2,000 or so he touched tonight in Prospect Park will pass along word of his magic outside the bright lights of Broadway.