Kennedy Center honoree, two-time Tony Award winner and MacArthur “Genius” award winner Bill T. Jones performed “Story/Time” along with his dance troupe. His role was that of story teller--70 one-minute stories, to be precise. Meanwhile nine dancers of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company danced sequences taken from the thirty-year repertory of the troupe.
The stories were picked randomly.
The dancers need to know 130 minutes of performance from the company repertory and from those a random assembly of 70 minutes are put together anew for each performance.
There is no narrative arc in either dance or story.
Rather, this is purposely random to put the pressure on you, the viewer, to find meanings and connections.
Jones draws stories from his own life and points out that unlike the progenitor of this type of performance, John Cage, he talks a good deal about sex, race, and from a first-person emotional point of view.
Cage’s work titled “Indeterminacy” became a descriptive of musical compositions and performance determined by chance.
The point of this approach to music, in Cage’s case, and dance, in Jones case, is to develop a creative process that as Jones puts it, “is the most honest way to start something new.”
What you make of the performance and what the person next to you makes of it will differ. That was clear from the very beginning when Bill T. Jones asked everyone to count a minute and then raise their hands. Hands shot up here and there and more than half the audience hadn’t yet raised their hand when the timer announced that the minute had expired.
You will likely not be bored- quite the contrary.
The dancers, we found out in the post-performance discussion, were given boxes on the floor that blocked the new one-minute sequences, which they had to perform without the benefit of an assisted body memory of more traditional dance that does have an arc. In the post-show discussion, the dancers spoke good naturedly of glitches that were not very apparent.
Jones sits at a simple office desk surrounded by green apples, that at various points are taken by the dancers and incorporated into their performance. One story is a biblical tale. Next Jones tells a childhood memory or shares a scene of life with his beloved partner, the late Arnie Zane. His words create a collage that includes a mourning relative, a nephew with a Gameboy, and a racist hurling full throttle epithets towards him and Arnie. His life has taken him around the globe and to many key art moments of our time and they are woven into the tapestry.
Music and sound by composer Ted Coffey seem to provide an arc, but how the dance and stories paired with it were totally random.
Jones and Associate Artistic Director Janet Wong throw a crumb in the direction of traditional narrative by repeating the classic melodrama of “You MUST pay the rent!”, “I can’t pay the rent”, etc. three times. In the post-show discussion I was with the many who were surprised to learn that the third reprise of this melodrama had no words attached.
If you go to see the performance today it will be a different piece than yesterdays and different yet again from tomorrows. That is what “indeterminacy” is about.
Dance always helps kick the cobwebs from your brain with a visual thrill. There may be nudity at times and smoke that you’d think would be jarring your senses. This is more cerebral stuff designed to give your noggin an extra jog that more determined dance does not.
By attending a performance you become part of the conversation on Indeterminacy that Cage started in 1961 and part of art history in the making.
The Dance Center
1306 S. Michigan Avenue
312 369 8330 or visit the Dance Center website
Friday October 25, 8 PM
Saturday October 26, 3 and 8 PM
The Dance Center’s 2013-14 season continues through April 5.
Photos: Paul B. Goode unless otherwise indicated in caption