Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company
EJ Thomas Hall
October 9, 2016
By Steve Sucato
Dancer I-Ling Liu stood with her back pressed to a wall, slowly and deliberately moving her stiffly pointed index finger from above toward the outstretched palm of her other hand like a dagger. Steps away on the stage of The University of Akron’s E.J. Thomas Hall, fellow dancer Jenna Riegel achingly voiced the words of Dora Amelan, recounting the death of her 20-year-old sister from an infection caused by a botched abortion during World War II. Lu embodied the cold anguish felt in Amelan’s words, her dark eyes a window into a woman who had seen untold horrors, perhaps none as haunting as the memory of this moment.
The first part in Bill T. Jones’ Analogy trilogy, the production, presented by DANCECleveland in collaboration with The University of Akron’s Dance Department, is based on a riveting oral history that artistic director/choreographer Bill T. Jones conducted with his now 96-year-old French-Jewish mother-in-law in 2002. In Amelan’s own words and those of Jones, the 90-minute intermissionless dance-theater work told of Amelan’s harrowing experiences escaping the Nazis and serving as a nurse/social worker in occupied France.
Set to a masterfully crafted original score sung and performed live by its composer, Nick Hallett, and pianist Emily Manzo, the piece, in 25 chapters, fully embraced the “theater” in dance-theater. The combination of the dancers skillfully voicing dialogue (often while dancing), Hallett’s powerful score and Jones’ abstract yet illustrative choreography made for a deeply moving experience that drilled into the core of our humanity, producing swells of disparate emotions and entrancing us with marvelous storytelling.
Perhaps the production’s only shortcoming was that the music and dialogue sometimes overshadowed the dancing in dramatic impact. When all the elements did come together — such as in a scene when Amelan recalled a female co-worker saying goodbye to her husband who was being sent to a concentration camp, and a happier one depicting a visit from her entertainer cousin Marcel Marceau — it was pure theatrical magic.
Overall, the entire cast of nine dancer/actors performed with aplomb. Of particular note were the performances of Riegel and Cain Coleman who handed the bulk of the emotionally potent dialogue with calming vocal control, dancers Liu and Rena Butler who expertly illustrated the trauma and heartache contained in Amelan’s words, and Cleveland-native Antonio Brown, in his last season with the company, who lent a quiet strength to Jones’ words.
A modified version of this review first appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper on October 19, 2016.
Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.