After 29 years, Bill T. Jones still gets eloquent when talking about the new things his Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company will provide audiences when it performs on Thursday at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
“We will have live music,” Jones said. “This is very exciting for us. And we’re premiering a new score to ‘Continuous Replay.’ ”
That’s not all. SITI Theatre Company, which began at Skidmore College as a collaborative ensemble with dance, music and art disciplines, will not only perform with Jones’ dancers in “Continuous Replay,” it is working with the company on a new work based on Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.” Jones’ company is in residence at Skidmore through June 23; “Meditation on the Rite of Spring” is scheduled for a January premiere in North Carolina.
Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company
WHERE: Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Spa State Park, Saratoga Springs
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday. Pre-performance talk, 7:30 p.m. with composer Jerome Begin and the company’s associate artistic director Janet Wong
HOW MUCH: $30; $25 for SaratogaArtsFest Pass
MORE INFO: 584-9330, www.spac.org
• Video excerpts, 7 p.m. Wed., June 13
• Live excerpts, 7 p.m. Sat., June 30
• Students from the dance workshop, 5 p.m. Fri., June 22
WHERE: Skidmore College, 815 N. Broadway, Saratoga Springs
MORE INFO: 580-5596, cms.skidmore.edu
“SITI is a very special company,” Jones said. “It has a rigorous daily training in body and voice and they’re very game. They’re learning the choreography. You won’t be able to tell them apart from my dancers.”
The SPAC show will also include “D-Man in the Waters,” which is getting its first reconstruction since 1999, when it received a Bessie Award. It will also be the first time the company has performed the dance at SPAC. Also on the program is “Spent Days Out Yonder.”
Local freelance musicians will play.
As for the residency, which is one of many he’s done over the years at Skidmore, Jones said the dancers always look forward to coming to the college and visiting Saratoga Springs.
“It’s very beautiful and it gives us time away from the city,” he said. “We can prepare for a tour or be working to bring back a dance.”
Some of the events — held at Skidmore and open to the public — related to the new dance include video excerpts at 7 p.m. on June 13; live excerpts at 7 p.m. on June 30; and students from the dance workshop at 5 p.m. on June 22.
When Jones and Zane began the company almost three decades ago, they wanted to make dances that an audience could taste and feel, Jones said.
Dance with life
“I wanted a dance that would have a life to it,” he said. “And I wanted to use music that would attract an audience who would come even if it was just to hear that music.”
The company began with three dancers. One of their first dances in 1982 was “The Gift” to Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino.” Over the years the company has averaged 10 dancers, and nine are coming to SPAC. And Jones’ repertory has had a significant influence on American dance, with pieces that vary widely both visually and stylistically, addressing issues of identity or making social commentary.
When Zane died in 1988, Jones was determined to keep going, he said. International tours to 200 cities in 30 countries followed, as did numerous awards, including the 1994 MacArthur “genius” grant, two Tony Awards (“Spring Awakening” in 2007 and “Fela” in 2010, which prompted an international tour), induction into the National Museum of Dance’s Hall of Fame (2007) and Kennedy Center honors (2010).
The popularity of several of his dances, including those his company will perform at SPAC, has prompted other companies to license them so they could perform them.
All this success is the reason why Jones has never taken Zane’s name off the company’s title.
“The company is the child he and I had,” Jones said. “It’s a child that is now into its 30th year. We’re very proud of this union. It proved that we were not two young gay guys having a fling.”
Jones decided to reconstruct three of his repertory works because his company is always going through change.
“You need to keep the dancers active as to who they are and who they’ve been. And you need to shape the dances to the dancers’ rhythms and their sense of space,” he said.
With different dancers, the dance itself adjusts to make different visual versions. To make sure the dancers see the choreography as he wants it, associate director Janet Wong videotapes several performances of each dance and he chooses the version he wants his company to learn.
“This makes for greater consistency and intent,” Jones said. “Each group of dancers finds its own sense of community. It’s something you can’t write down. It’s all how they feel about each other.”
The titles of his dances are sometimes symbolic.
“D-Man in the Waters” was inspired by one of his dancers, Demian Acquavella, who later died of AIDS.
“He had a skill at wrapping things around him and we’d nicknamed him D-Man,” Jones said with a laugh. “That’s why I thought of the dance as a boutique dance.”
As for the water connotation, that initially came from a daydream Jones had in which he saw a lake with people playing around it. There was also a waterfall that people were going over.
“I saw it as a frightening image of life,” he said.
When he shared all this with Acquavella, the dancer told him he was himself obsessed about water, which came as a big surprise to Jones, he said. Between the waterfall and Acquavella’s valiant effort to overcome his disease, Jones said he had his choreography, which is a celebration of life, loss and the resiliency of the human spirit.
The dance was a commission from St. Luke’s Chamber Orchestra, which suggested he choose from a list of music by three composers: Poulenc’s Sextet, a Mozart work, or Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-flat.
Jones chose the Mendelssohn: “I love romantic music,” he said.
Jones himself presented the first part of the work in 1987. It became a full dance in 1989.
“Spent Days Out Yonder” was a commission as part of a European project that was supposed to show the radiance of Latin culture in the New World, Jones said, laughing. Initially, he began listening to Mozart string quartets and dancing in his living room to a videotape.
“I wanted to experiment to see if I could dance intelligently to Mozart but have the freedom to move as if I were listening to James Brown or jazz,” he said. “I was playing with improvisation to his melodies and phrases, which never change.”
He settled on Mozart’s Quartet No. 23 in F Major and characterized it as a “glorious building.” As for the title, Jones said he imagined a new frontier with thoughts about the Spanish and their conquest of the New World or the diaspora. One of the dancers suggested the title, which Jones thought was perfect.
“Continuous Replay,” created in 1977, is based on up to 45 of Zane’s photographs or gestures. It became a group piece in 1991.
“It’s a minimalist structure based on repetition. I don’t know whose idea it was, Arnie’s or mine,” Jones said.
This dance will include some full nudity at the beginning. The music has changed over the years. Several composers, mostly pop, have been used.
But last year, Jones asked Jerome Begin, who teaches at the Juilliard School, to put together music for a string quartet that would combine references to early Beethoven with recorded street sounds such as kids playing and subways. He also used astronauts talking to NASA, which was something Jones said he hadn’t expected to hear.
The company’s performance is part of SaratogaArtsFest, which will host a showcase of regional arts organizations and artists on the SPAC lawn from 6 to 8 p.m. along with food and wine and a pre-performance talk at 7:30.
Speakers will be Begin and Wong. All events are free to ticket holders.
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