The versatility of choreographer Bill T. Jones is staggering.
For more than 30 years, he, with his Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, has explored avenues of dance that range from large-scale super productions to small, intimate creations. All of his works, successful or not, are drawn from Jones’ large heart and are either inspired by modern art or a striving for social justice and a more humane world.
A quintet of Jones/Zane dancers appeared Friday night at The Egg in a program of older works, dating from the 1980s and ’90s. All duets, the three pieces gave a glimpse into Jones’ early career with his partner, the late Zane. Each pairing was different, the first two works demonstrating Jones’ inclination toward purity in movement and the latter, from 1993, showing how he was digging into narrative.
The first work was “Duet x 2” from 1982. Danced in silence, the work for Shayla-Vie Jenkins with Rena Butler and then Jenkins with Antonio Brown, was an extreme sport. The pairs entered through a red-rimmed threshold at the sound of a thud, signaling something grand was to happen. The two — who appeared as competitors — stretched and walked the periphery of a rectangle. Appearing as if in a sports arena, Jenkins and Butler came together and battled apart in a strange contest that alluded to football (tackling and wrestling), soccer (big kicks and sideways jumps) and track (running).
Butler bowed out, and Brown entered for yet another run of the same. Most impressive was the stamina of Jenkins, who sustained strength and precision throughout both long duets.
Also requiring stamina was “Shared Distance,” another work from 1982. Also in silence, this acrobatic duet showcased Talli Jackson and Jenna Riegel in exhausting feats of power and vigor. The tall Jackson tossed about the tiny Riegel, balancing her on his head and swinging her up and over his body like a rag doll. Riegel remained poised throughout and in sync with Jackson. They frequently reminded the audience of their staunch union by echoing the occasional notes that seemed to spontaneously emit from their mouths.
While those duets were eye-opening and interesting, the evening’s best was saved for the end. “Just You,” performed by Brown and Joseph Poulson, portrayed a tense relationship between two men: Brown, a reluctant and often hostile friend, and Poulson, who tried to coax and embrace their partnership. Using two coffee tables as bed and benches, the duo clashed and clasped each other as if trying to find common ground. To songs like “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” and “Side by Side,” though, the relationship grew deeper and more solid.
The work felt like a tribute to or retelling of Jones and Zane’s own relationship, which Jones has admitted was, at first, difficult for him. But Jones graciously keeps Zane’s memory alive with such works as “Just You” and by never dropping his name from the company they founded. Jones honors Zane well, too, by continuing to keep audiences’ minds sharp and hearts engaged.