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.”

Most reviews on loveDANCEmore are also shared on 15 BYTES. 

*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.

Diavolo at Eccles

Diavolo | Architecture in Motion had its Park City premiere at the Eccles Center on Monday night. The LA-based company is known for its large-scale architectural pieces that are the jumping-off point (literally) for the company’s acrobatic movement vocabulary. On the program for the evening were two full-length pieces, “Transit Space” (2012) and “Trajectoire” (1999), both conceptualized by artistic director Jacques Heim.

“Transit Space” featured skate ramps that the dancers maneuvered around stage to create different scenes. The ramps were used in every imaginable way, dancers clad in cargo pants and sneakers sliding down and ricocheting off them – all while the ramps were in motion. Watching the dancers’ daring tricks and trusting falls, as well as their innate sense of timing and teamwork in relation to the ramps, was truly exciting. The choreography that took place on solid ground was less so; think that cliche street dance movie and the final “dance battle” that ensues. The sound score featured music layered with spoken word, addressing the popular yet tired reproach of social media technology, among other more grippingly personal sound bites.

“Trajectoire”* centered around a set piece fondly referred to by the company as “the boat”, which rocked back and forth for the piece’s duration. Clad in white, the dancers mounted and dismounted the boat throughout, which alone was thrilling to watch. Once atop the rocking boat, groups of dancers ran from side to side, making the boat rock to extremes. The sides looked like they would touch the floor in these moments, but of course never did. Choreographed sequences also took place atop the boat, both a testament to spatial awareness in a confined space and to balance atop a surface in motion. The dancers inverted, extended, and leapt through choreography that would have been demanding even on solid ground. Like in “Transit Space”, teamwork was a notable component to “Trajectoire”, as the dancers lifted, supported, and caught each other in aerial maneuvers all while making sure the boat didn’t rock to the wrong place at the wrong time.

Diavolo showed incredible strength and daring in the program’s two works. Additionally, the dancers’ ability to work together and coordinate dangerous lifts and jumps with moving architectural pieces is laudable. While “Transit Space” felt more like a gimmick at times, “Trajectoire” seemed to truly embody the company’s mission and capabilities.

*Note: To give due credit to the Diavolo performers and their professionalism, they spent a prolonged intermission trying to map out “Trajectoire” minus one usual cast member (who was unable to perform the second piece due to an acute case of altitude sickness). Ultimately, the company was able to perform only the first half of “Trajectoire” at Monday evening’s show.

Amy Falls is an independent dance artist and works administratively for several SLC-based dance organizations.

Dance reviews on loveDANCEmore are shared with 15 BYTES, Utah’s Visual Art Magazine.

photo courtesy of Diavolo|Architecture in Motion

LINES at Eccles in PC

It was a cold, rainy evening in Park City, but the Park City Institute’s George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Center was abuzz for the evening’s performance by Alonzo King LINES Ballet. LINES was founded in 1982 by eponymous choreographer Alonzo King and creative director/designer Robert Rosenwasser, and has contributed greatly to the form of contemporary ballet in its Bay Area home, as well as nationally and internationally. In addition to influencing the form through his own choreography, King is also noted for his teaching style and school, whose faculty who imbue critical thinking and freedom to make choices in their approach to ballet as an ever-evolving, relevant art form.

LINES presented three of King’s works on the evening’s program: Concerto for Two Violins (music by Johann Sebastian Bach);Men’s Quintet (music by Edgar Meyers and Pharaoh Sanders); and Biophony (music/soundscape by Bernie Krause and Richard Blackford). All three works exist in the same movement oeuvre: classical balletic forms with modern sensibilities and more turns, balances, twists, and flourishes than would seem humanly possible. King’s dancers, known for being exceptionally long-limbed, execute choreography at breakneck speed and with a coolness that belies the work’s intense physicality. Most notably in Concerto for Two Violins, the dancers radiate the music of Bach from their whirling appendages; an internal focus is common in their approach to choreography, and as each note appears generated by their instrumental bodies, external presentation is almost rendered unnecessary.

All three of the evening’s works are choreographically intricate and each dancer’s virtuoso is individually captivating. But concept appears to have stagnated at LINES: Biophony is King’s latest work and a collaboration with bio-acoustician Dr. Bernie Krause, but it feels less innovative and less interesting than the two older works. Biophony relies heavily on its sound score of animal and nature noises in an attempt to provide a different take on King’s signature style.

To be fair, Biophony’s soundscape does inspire some different, quirkier movement choices, such as a contorted crab walk or twisted, pecking arms. But while the dancers hone in on movements of the animal kingdom convincingly, these choices appear heavy-handed when presented in tandem with a sound score of chirps, squawks, and screeches and as after-thoughts amidst King’s complex choreography. A lecture demonstration on animal habitats comes to mind.

Park City Institute executive director Terri Orr, in her pre-curtain welcoming speech, recalled an anecdote from her conversation with the LINES booking agent. The agent expressed concern (perhaps feigned, but still mentioned) that the company was too “urban” and “edgy” for Utah dance audiences. I am now unsure whether to be insulted as an educated audience member, or concerned about the way the company is being billed to presenters.

LINES’ prominence in the contemporary dance world is indisputable, but in order to be billed as anything close to “urban” or “edgy”, the work presented must be more than digestible contemporary ballet, animalian soundscape or not.

Amy Falls is a choreographer, performer, and the Mudson coordinator for loveDANCEmore. This review, and others by loveDANCEmore are in collaboration with 15 BYTES.


Parsons Dance

Parsons Dance Company is the model home of eighties contemporary dance. It is inoffensive in every possible way. If you are looking for a dance experience that is easily digestible and classic, that was Parsons Dance Company Saturday performance at the Park City Eccles Center for the Performing Arts. If you are a member of the more diverse and eclectic dance audience of Salt Lake, the show could be considered bland.

That being said, the beauty of Parsons Dance is that they are form based and that is beautiful, and valid in its own right. Parsons has sprinkled pantomime throughout the show to keep things feeling more playful than just a display of technique. That makes the show more approachable. The form that dominates the show and is obviously Parsons’ primary focus is the epitome of old school contemporary dance. It does not become extreme enough to fall into one particular category of classic modern dance technique or ballet. In fact, the movement is so ambiguous I was wondering if Parsons’ even had an esthetic or just a marketable way of constructing bodies in space. His look is classical and respectable in every possible way without again being too risky. Even the unexpected leaps by the male dancers are not accented enough to draw attention away from the smooth pirouettes of the female dancers.

The one scene where Parsons breaks from his signature, melodic movement and slow fading colorful backlight is to showcase a single male dancer with strobes. The piece breaks away from Parsons’ classic, fully light, proscenium to fleeting bursts of light and total darkness. The soloist is impressive because he times his leaps and bounces perfectly with the lighting to never be seen standing on the ground. This is different from the rest of Parsons’ show. However, just as the pantomime fell short of forming a complete thought that challenges the audience, this piece falls short of being anything more than an impressive display of a man’s timing and altitude.

All of this polite crowd pleasing culminates in a very agreeable show, the same way strolling through a spotlessly clean model home is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. It is easy brain candy. I for one would rather spend my time in a hundred year old home with floors that creak, because it has character, it is not easy to digest, it makes me think outside the ticky tack of the model home and I like it that way. Both are valid choices; if you prefer to keep things simple, sit back and enjoy some beautiful form and by all means I will recommend this show. However, if you want to chew on something and mull it over for days after the show, don’t bother: it was not a memorable dance experience.

Natalie Graves is a SLC-based dance artist