Anyone who loves dance takes pleasure in the movement of a dancer’s sculptured, supple body. That’s a given. But a naked dancer is another story.
Frankly, a nude dancer distracts the audience and therefore detracts from the art — especially when the nudity is not discreet.
That was the case on Thursday night when Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company fearlessly stepped into that realm of full frontal nudity at Saratoga Performing Arts Center. As the opening act of the Saratoga ArtsFest, the ensemble, which has been in residence at Skidmore College, offered up its “Continuous Replay.” Like choreographer Trisha Brown’s accumulation series, the dance was a study of repetitive motion. The dancer sighed. The dancer sighed and turned his head. The dancer sighed, turned his head, and placed a hand on his hips, etc., etc. Those movements were repeated and added upon until the end.
To keep this mechanical dance pure and simple, costumes were discarded. That was odd enough. What was more unusual was choreographer Jones’ decision to fill out his nine-member ensemble with non-dancers, including a large man with a generous protruding belly. This made things even more distracting, especially when these nonprofessionals turned the wrong way or were unable to keep up at the end.
Leading the pack was the brave Erick Montes, who stayed in the buff the entire dance (it was cold outside) while others added items of clothes — a pair of socks here, a bra there — for more accumulation. Though orderly, “Continuous Replay” was unsatisfying.
However, the rest of the evening was marvelous. The company opened with the lovely, tranquil “Spent Days Out Yonder,” to Mozart’s String Quartet No. 23 in F Major, and ended with Jones’ breathtaking masterpiece, “D-Man in the Waters.”
“Spent Days Out Yonder” was a relaxed affair, with dancers strolling in and out of the picture. Their arms, angular and swinging, topped off torsos that noodled and bottoms that swayed. Their leg raised them up and down, like they were on a lift. Yet all eyes remained focused on their upper bodies that were as welcoming as a warm breeze.
It was nice. But none of Jones’ work can compare to his best — “D-Man in the Waters” — a work that was exuberant, desperate, and thoughtful. Set to Mendelssohn’s Octet for Strings in E-Flat Major, nine dancers, dressed in Army fatigues, paddled their arms as if swimming for their lives. They leaped forward, chests opened and arched, in a way that signified both struggle and triumph. They also slid across the stage on their chests and caught each other in midair in a dance of abandon and fight.
In the second section, the dance grew dim. Dancers tiptoed across the stage with their head down. One dancer was raised above the heads — stiff as a corpse. And a cloud remained as the pace slowed with a simmering solo performed with tender sadness by I-Ling Liu.
But “D-Man” regained its ecstasy in the final section with the dancers flying and charging once again. It ended with Montes being tossed and the stage going black. The last image was his sail through space. “D-Man” was a survivor’s rapture.