New York

Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane & Co.

Joyce Theater

Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane’s signature style came out of a visual and kinetic dialectic. Jones—black, tall, and lyrically athletic—was paired off with Zane—white, short, and frenetically antic—in duets that explored the ways such extreme contrasts could connect through movement. This trademark esthetic became diluted almost as soon as it was established, becoming submerged to the point of invisibility when the duo moved on to evening-length, company-sized works. These dances seemed to sprawl shapelessly under the weight of too many ideas. Now, a year after Zane’s death, their enterprise has begun to produce a distinctive choreography of surpassing power. Their always intense physicality has been heightened immeasurably by this newly achieved, clarified choreography.

Jones/Zane & Co. don’t traffic in the usual mode of most contemporary choreographers—that is, with a single structural and/or movement vocabulary that, is worked out through musical, scenic, and kinetic variations. Rather, they pillage theatrical genres, even entire choreographic styles, to create dances that cross-reference each other. While this complex method has been true of Jones/Zane & Co. for some time, this season constitutes a breakthrough. The variety of movement and conceptual modes, of musical accompaniment and visual decor that cluttered earlier dances to the point of obfuscation have suddenly coalesced into something that is as emotionally stirring as it is intellectually satisfying.

This evolution became clear in several new dances scattered across three different programs. La Grande Fête, 1989, is a playful mythological fantasy, in which dancers toy with a pair of lovers through mock-archaic movement and miming styles. A duet for Jones and Bunty Matthias set to music by Kurt Weill and Bessie Smith explores a generalized male/female relationship via pop and ballroom dance movement and theatrical gestures. Absence, 1989, is a Robert Wilson-like tableaux of severe visual beauty, its meditative, elegiac mood heightened by a solemn suite of Berlioz songs. D-Man in the Waters, 1989, contrasts extremely athletic, almost violent movement, such as sweeping dives to the floor, with a lush Mendelssohn score. Zane’s last piece of choreography, The Gift/No God Logic, 1987, presents a shadowy Other-world, set to a score of Verdi arias. In each dance, the separate elements harmonize effortlessly, without the kind of disruptive, straining-for-effect friction that, in the past, produced as much obscuring smoke as illuminating fire. Even the few Jones/Zane tics that tend to be repeated from dance to dance, such as mimed laughing, have changed character from annoying shtick to meaningful gesture.

The dancing in Jones/Zane & Co. has always been terrific, even within their most abstruse choreographic muddles. In the works seen here, it was simply superb, both in terms of ensemble virtuosity and individual performances—from the hot-wired athleticism of Arthur Aviles to the nimbleness of the extremely hefty Lawrence Goldhuber, from the grounded sensuality of Janet Lilly to the quicksilver moves of Sean Curran. Jones/Zane & Co. have created a rare, remarkable presence on the landscape of contemporary dance.

John Howell