Gratitude: the first word that comes to mind when I think of Bill T. Jones. I am grateful for the legacy of his work, for the Master that he is, for the poise of his choreography, for his philosophy as a thinker, for the multiracial/multinational/multicultural space of inclusion he has created in the concert dance scene, and most of all for the humanity in everything that he does.
My gratitude extends to the ASU Beyond series coordinators and sponsors for bringing Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company’s Analogy/Ambrose: The Emigrant to the Valley for the Phoenix audience’s viewing pleasure. This work is the third part of the Analogy Trilogy, based on the novel The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald, which explores war in a literal and physiological context.
Analogy/Ambrose: The Emigrant, like all of Jones’ works, explores our human experience through his contemporary modern dance movement vocabulary- but dance is not the main focus of this work, as the company gives equal weight to movement as it does to the storytelling element created through song, text and the technical production elements of the performance.
The associate director, Janet Wong, has seamlessly incorporated her video design as an element that enhances the performance, adding a layer of visual interest that doesn’t distract from the storytelling. In fact, the video highlights the interconnectivity of the past and the present – connecting the story of Ambrose’s physiological struggles to those of the individuals in the company. The video projections help to intertwine the 20th century writings and modern characters by overlapping written text with the spoken word of Ambrose. Wong also projected prerecorded choreographic sequences of the dancers, creating the images as reflections from the past.
Personally, I was enthralled with the storyline and found it difficult to focus on the text and the multiple layers of production elements, but I realize this confusion was purposeful and contributed to the overall theme of the chaotic memory. In my opinion, the best use of projection was the candid video of individual dancers discussing Sebald’s material and how the stories applied to their personal lives.
The juxtaposition between past and present can be seen in every element of the production. The theater stage is bare of all curtains and the center backdrop appears as a white canvas with a twirling projected cube in the upper righthand corner. The cube comes to life as the dancers pick up four large decor pieces and manipulate them into various parts of the stage, creating hurdles to pass through and under, creating rooms, and distorting the projected images playing into this idea of memory and turmoil. What is real, what is memory, and what has been fantasized?
The prominent theme throughout the piece: turmoil. As spectators we watch the characters, both real and literary, working through the wars within themselves. Memories, as pictures, were created using the floor-to-ceiling tube lighting where curtains would usually be, to flash on and off of the dancers as if to take snapshots throughout the piece. The costumes were both current, using neutral-colored clothing, and dated, with off-white 20th century clothing pieces, which added to the concept of time and timelessness. All of the elements are meant to emphasize the past and the present. The musical score played with natural sounds of the ocean, camera clicks, vocal whispers, text and screams, alongside (and often in contrast to) the sounds of a piano, violin and electrically synthesized accompaniment. The musical score, along with the dancers’ song and voice, created a purposeful chaos. A chaos that is incredibly human and familiar - much like the voices inside of our heads.
The performance had no particular climax, which made it feel like a true reflection of life in real time and the simple complexities of being human. There were, however, several impactful moments in the choreographic structure. The group work was used to create a sense of chaos - fast movement sequences that ended on the belly, facedown like scenes from a battle ground. At times the group sequences would pause with a camera click as if taking a traditional family portrait or photos from an enjoyable travel adventure, pausing at the edge of group lifts. The choreography, like everything else, was fragmented with sequences traveling in straight lines, moving forward and back is if through space and time.
The performers were professional, diverse, and were able to show their range, not only as individual technicians but also as complete artists. I particularly enjoyed the duets and solos. For example, the main character and his partner had several duets between the two using partner work and everyday gestures. The duets throughout the piece highlighted the possibilities of human relationships: love, support, family, friendship, and connections between strangers. The solos demonstrated the power and beauty of each dancer being pushed to the edge of their comfort zones singing, dancing and reciting text. It is obvious that the dancers played an integral role in the creation of the work, which is evident in the appropriation of their movement style in the solos, yet all members are proficient in maintaining the modern shapes and lines unique to Jones’ choreographic voice.
Analogy/Ambrose: The Emigrant was successful in portraying the experience of trauma described in Sebald’s novel and highlights how our lives are influenced by our memories. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to watch this show and hope that Arizona continues to receive professional work of this calibre.
Alicia Nascimento Castro graduated with a BFA in Dance from UofA then performed with Philadanco D2 and Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble. In Brazil she danced with Cia Mario Nascimento, had a leading role in the Beatles musical Because, and taught at Grupo Corpo, and Palácio das Artes. She currently teaches at GCU.