New York

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company

In the old days, when Alan Suicide played CBGB’s and Nan Goldin showed slides at the Mudd Club and Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane performed at the Kitchen on Broome Street, the downtown dance scene and the art world/music scene were part of the same geography. Visual artists, performers, choreographers, and musicians made up one another’s audiences; each group saw in the others’ work reflections of its own conceptual strategies and found inspiration in the way high art, low culture, and punk music were a part of everyone’s special blend. By the mid-’80s, however, doors slammed shut on interdisciplinarity’s open plan as a newly flourishing art market focused on large paintings, photographs, and objects of all sorts.

The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company’s twentieth-anniversary celebrations should be a rallying cry to visual artists to get back in there and look at what dancers can do with space, time, and imagemaking; specifically, to follow how Jones constructs three-dimensional shapes from dancer’s bodies and infuses them with content (politics, gender, race) and commentary (how the body moves, what the eye sees). This work is driven by a conversation on the intricacies of its own making and is threaded through with moral questions about the world in which we live.

“The Phantom Project” is an intimate survey organized by Jones of the work he created with Zane from the time they met at SUNY Binghamton through eleven years of partnership to Zane’s death in 1988 of complications from AIDS. Archival footage was projected of Zane performing in his inimitable style—that of the untrained dancer making good through the sheer force of his body—while the technically superb dancers now in the company performed their versions of his moves onstage at the same time. Seminal early works, such as Blauvelt Mountain (A Fiction), 1980, with its task-oriented physicality (at one point Zane builds and then dismantles a wall of concrete blocks), and Floating the Tongue, 1978, in which the dancer describes aloud a sequence of movements while executing them, were brought to life through a mix of film footage and live performance. In true Deleuzian fashion, the actual and virtual, not to mention the past and present, were in a state of continual exchange.

A walk down memory lane? Not at all. Jones is too deeply iconoclastic—even when it comes to his own history—to fall into that trap. Rather, his reexamination and reconstruction of the past is essential to propel his company into the future: Dancing the early material forced his troupe of professionals to disassemble their technique, to confront their received ideas. “The Phantom Project” also showed that Jones’s loyalty to Zane after all these years has not been in name only. He has maintained Zane’s visual sense as a fundamental element of his own working method.

RoseLee Goldberg