Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane and Company at Alverno College
Dancers focus inward and spin through space like free atoms through much of Bill T. Jones’ Serenade/The Proposition. When they come together, though, the attachments are close, interlocking and intense, as if eight wayward individuals sometimes band together as a close-knit tribe. Sometimes, these assemblies are more formal, posed like 19th-century group photographs.
Serenade stopped at Alverno College Sunday, as part of a national tour by the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. The piece is generally about opposing impulses toward solidarity on one hand and extreme independence on the other. Specifically, it is about Abraham Lincoln and the American Civil War.
The specifics come in an intermittent montage of texts, delivered mostly by Jamyl Dobson from a lectern at stage right, and in lyrics sung or recited by Lisa Komara from a lectern at stage left. Dobson’s texts blend and juxtapose bits of speeches by Lincoln and other Civil War figures with reminiscences of Jones’ boyhood on the road with his migrant worker parents. The lyrics draw on The Battle Hymn of the Republic, Dixie (both refitted with different melodies) and a drifting, fragmentary original love song. Komara wrote the music collaboratively, with cellist Christopher Antonio William Lancaster and keyboardist Jerome Begin, who played live from the pit. Recorded comments from dancers about relationships with those around them also blend into the sonic mix.
Serenade argues no case, makes no demands and takes no side. The piece, which runs about 80 minutes without intermission, is a sort of resigned, melancholy dream about the tragic ambivalence of the American condition. The five men and three women, clad in Anjia Jalac’s beautiful, understated costumes that obliquely suggest uniforms and petticoats, moved with serene poise throughout. They always concealed the effort behind the outbursts of speed and virtuosity that occasionally perturb the placid pace. Balance stayed centered and secure, even at extreme tilts.
The text includes an excerpt from an account of the fall of Richmond and Jones’ childhood recollection of waking up in 1954, during an all-night car ride from one job to the next. He untangled his limbs from those of his siblings and looked out to see a strange city passing by. He heard his father tell his mother they were in Richmond.
Thus history mingles with the personal recollection of an African-American choreographer. And that mingling becomes a dance that in its dreamy, elusive way shows us America’s soul.
Other views: The Boston Phoenix