Bill T. Jones at the Eccles Center

Six panels of white marley hang in front of the traveler at the back of the stage.
They begin to skim the floor and cover a central space without quite reaching the lip.
Interlocking foam shapes lay waiting.
So does a small white table with carefully placed microphones.   
The physical and electronic instruments of Nick Hallett and Emily Manzo are to the right. Company members are invisible, preparing and bracing for a dance in new altitude.

 "Analogy/Dora: Tramontane" photographed by Paul B. Goode

"Analogy/Dora: Tramontane" photographed by Paul B. Goode

It was a dream for Park City Institute Director Teri Orr as she stood before the Eccles Center sharing the many attempts that got Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company to Park City. As the show began, Bill took the stage to introduce “Analogy/Dora: Tramontane.” More disarming than a descriptive program, a choreographer inviting you to share in material is an excellent way to begin.

In his introduction Bill described how he came to interview Dora Amelan about her experiences in World War II. Dora's son, Bjorn Amelan, is the decor designer for "Analogy/Dora" and recently married to Bill; in Bill’s re-telling, Bjorn began to notice that as Dora aged, new stories emerged conversationally. Bill is no stranger to telling stories, particularly those of individuals moving through trial or tragedy. His body of work existing very much in relationship to broad social histories.*

“Analogy/Dora…” began with dancers creating tableaus by manipulating the interlocking foam pieces. The foam shapes formed windows, doorways, roofs, and other boundaries. Some of these tableaus could have been lifted from Jones’ other works, many including the same sizeable narrative arcs and containing equally abstract, precise and formal movement.

As the dance went on, the foam pieces continued intermittent transitions but were accompanied by interview texts. For an avid dance-goer it’s easy to recount a handful of pieces in this vein, most accompanied by a muffled recording or a singular and heavy monologue. Bill’s strategy was different, and more compelling: the dancers traded roles of Dora and Bill allowing her storytelling to ripple among the cast. This method of delivery also simulated the architecture on stage, reaching the audience in a collective way. When the story is displaced from its origins (a single Jewish teenager in France) the diversity of the cast in both race and physicality contributes to the concept of a shared narrative. The company make-up also lends itself toward the second and third installments of “Analogy,” which is a proposed trilogy exploring different personal histories.

Both the content and shared telling are at times didactic but at other times revelatory as the audience assigns how a narrative unfolds given our own assumptions and experiences. For example, one may bristle depending on which company member is the Gestapo, which is Dora’s sister in the hospital after a failed abortion, which is a parent, or which is Dora herself. The architecture also crossed into potential pedanticism because the pieces could have been, although they were not, placed in the form of a swastika. This line between instructive and illuminating is one Bill’s work often straddles whether for better or worse.

Throughout “Analogy,” a live score included traditional French and German songs and periodically interrupted the text with electronic music, allowing Bill’s signature movements to take center stage. These solely moving sections were striking as they exacerbated tension through full bodied vibrations and dispelled the same tension through sweeping yet distilled phrase material.

Met with a standing ovation, “Analogy/Dora” clearly reached its audience. As I exited through the expansive theater I remained curious not just about the work itself but also about the mode of presentation on the Wasatch Front. Most of my peers were ambling to their cars and heading back to Salt Lake or Utah County. The Eccles Theatre beautifully framed the work, but I wonder how vital dances by iconic choreographers could be more effectively presented by participation between additional arts partners.

Ashley Anderson directs loveDANCEmore programs as part of her 501c3 “ashley anderson dances.”

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*Most recently the company tackled the history of Lincoln which, along with another earlier take on “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” has been documented by PBS extending their documentation to broad audiences. The company has also created numerous works exploring the AIDS epidemic and terminal illness including “Still/Here,” which sparked a “victim art” debate after New Yorker critic Arlene Croce refused to review the piece.