Jones has become known for applying his wide-ranging choreography and sharp mind to storylines that take on chunks of history—including some shockingly modern history. He displays his sharp observational abilities in Analogy Trilogy, each part luxuriating in the slow, detailed unraveling of the stories of three interesting people: Dora Amelan, a Belgian Holocaust survivor; Lance, a seventies’ drug, sex and phony fame survivor; and the surreal Ambrose, the Emigrant who accompanies a rich, detached Jew on his odd journeys through America and Europe in the early twentieth century.
Jones’ devotion to powerful social issues—AIDS, marriage equality, history’s moral mistakes, gender equality, etc.—over the past decades slowly devolved Jones’ choreographic style from one hundred percent formal ballet-influenced modern dance to one beholden almost entirely to a narrative/protest format in which dance became more of a backdrop than the subject itself.
One turning point was “D-Man in the Waters” (1989) in which an emaciated, but joyous, young man—an AIDS victim—was carried out by other cast members to a huge ovation. Some critics thought this was an attention-grabbing stunt, but others lauded Jones for his honesty.
“Dora: Tramontane,” Part One of Analogy Trilogy, is the end product of interviews between Jones and Dora Amelan, a French Jewish nurse whose travails began in World War II Belgium and took her to Vichy France where she just barely survived. She helplessly watched her family disappear.
Her story was played out on Bjorn Amelan’s basic set used, with slight variations, for each of the three parts. It consisted of White Marley flooring laid upon the stage climbing up the back wall—a seamless, dreamy landscape.
In Part One, huge, differently shaped cutouts were carried about, linked to make little rooms, assembled as archways around which the dancers, dressed in Liz Prince’s casual, easily augmented outfits, stretched out in long lines flowing across the stage, took turns enacting the individual characters, formed passing friendships and filled in gaps in the storyline which was exhaustingly heartbreaking. Their acting was as touching as the low-key steps.
The music included excerpts from Schubert and the song “Parlez-moi d’Amour.”
Lance, aka “pretty boy-gangster thug,” brought out a more modern disco movement vocabulary to Part Two, the most contemporary and most clichéd section. As embodied by a small energetic dancer, Lance became a more complex, empathetic man overwhelmed by drugs and fame. Jones’ choreography reflected the debauched disco culture. Lance and other characters strutted about, subtly, slowly dissipating. Pop songs like “The Greatest Love of All,” “Bad Boy/Having a Party,” “Shame” and “Work This Pussy” were also evocative and sonically supportive.
The final section, “Ambros: The Emigrant” was a more fanciful tale of the complex relationships amongst the upper crust. Ambros Adelwarth was a German manservant to Cosmo, the privileged son of wealthy Jewish family. Ambros cares for Cosmo in Europe and the Middle East in the years just before World War II. There are hints of homosexuality as these two wandered aimlessly.
Again, large cutouts were used, as were slides and a more lush musical score that returned to Schubert and classical string music. (Throughout the show, live musicians and musical technicians chimed in to cover the meeker efforts of the dancers.) Indications of twenties and thirties’ clothing helped set the mood.
The extraordinary lighting—having to deal with all that white Marley!—was designed by Robert Wierzel.
The choreography credit was divided amongst Jones, his assistant Janet Wong and the current and original dancers. Some judicious cutting might have helped move the dramatic action along. Nevertheless, Analogy Trilogy holds together better than some of Jones’ latest works.
Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company: Analogy Trilogy (September 22 & 23, 2018)
NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, 566 LaGuardia Place, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-998-4941 or visit http://www.nyuskirball.org
Running time: six hours and 30 minutes including one intermission and one dinner break.