|Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company|
Photo: Paul B. Goode
Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, San Francisco
March 10th, 2016
If you frequent contemporary performance, you have likely come across the following terms: interdisciplinary, mixed/new media, physical theater, immersive installation and multi genre. While all are unique, there is a commonality amongst them – the molding of different performative elements together in a single production. As one might expect, some of these endeavors are more successful than others. For me, if there is ever a disconnect to this style of work, it’s usually for one of two reasons. Either the central theme is elusive or the various components are tangentially/tenuously related to each other. Unexpected, strange or even weird contemporary performance can be terrific but sometimes the extremes of high cerebral-ness or wild obtusesive-ness lead to a lost message.
When collaborative elements do work together in service of and in concert with a larger conceptual goal, the results can be amazing. Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company’s 2015 work Analogy/Dora: Tramontane, running this weekend at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, is collaboration done right. The piece offers a vulnerable, revelatory evening of storytelling. And the entire work is informed by direct source material – interviews between Artistic Director Bill T. Jones and Dora Amelan. Over eighty-five minutes, remembrances of Amelan’s journey during a vicious historical period (World War II) are shared - a narrative of tough struggles, harsh realities and a deep battle for right.
Analogy/Dora: Tramontane is driven by these conversations between Jones and Amelan. A few are mixed into the sound score, which also included fantastic live music by Nick Hallett and Emily Manzo, but most are communicated by the cast members. The ensemble takes turns in the roles of Jones and Amelan, re-telling the multitude of stories that was their original dialogue. Alongside these life chapters, dance, tableaux, song and design unfold concurrently. And it works. Not seeking to be a direct physical interpretation of the text, the music, movement and set speak to what is underneath the words - the nuanced feelings, thoughts, beliefs and emotions. This simultaneous layering of theatrical components made for a rich artistic mosaic, providing multiple avenues to connect with the compelling stories.
I had read somewhere that Analogy/Dora: Tramontane was made up of twenty-five different parts. Rather than twenty-five closed scenes or vignettes, each story flowed directly into the next. And if there is any criticism of the work, it would be that without some slight breaks or cadence points, Analogy/Dora: Tramontane does feel long. But that one observation certainly doesn’t take away from its achievements. First, and as previously mentioned, this project is constructed in such a way that the many disciplines are in sync. Second, Analogy/Dora: Tramontane has such an interesting sense of time. With the stories being shared from World War II, as a viewer, you are of course aware of the historical context. Yet, there was an equally overwhelming feeling of the present moment. Perhaps that dualism is a reflection of Jones’ commitment to storytelling in a contemporary setting.