January 14, 2023
Rigorous and mysterious, in Bill t. Jones' newest production Curriculum II the audience borders the 4 sides of the space. Tilted screens glow in the theater's original raft of seats and in the center, a ticker tape style box hangs from the rafters. Faces and text materialized on the screens while the intense, excellently trained dancers move nonstop for just over an hour.
Contentious social and political themes stream through a dance that breaks into clumps on the edges of the stage, slips into side spaces and up and down the audience staircases.
Gestures break from a ballet base to broken, jagged moves forging dark and light spaces like Picasso's Cubist images based in African imagery.
Since Bill T. Jones assumed ownership of the former Dance Theater Workshop, programs in dance are joined by thought-instigating conversations with literary, political, social and educational provocateurs.
Soaked in the politics of AIDS, racism and the white gaze, Bill T. Jones holds true to his concerns about racist myths, human vulnerability, truth and the future of this universe. Yes, these are all gargantuan topics, none of which can be assessed through a single dance, but at least the ideas can swim into consciousness encased in the bodies of committed dancers moving, singing and speaking.
Stepping out of the audience, the ten dancers turn on their phone's flashlight to light their way to the stage. In short order, Marie Lloyd Paspe convincingly sings the forlorn "Everyone's Gone To The Moon." Microphone in hand, the hippy-looking Shane Larson states "he is the narrator" of many names--perhaps like the narrators of our lives--but most importantly he wants everyone to picture him "as Black."
Much later, the dancers scatter into various sections of the audience and paint themselves in colors easily found on Sesame Street, on warriors, in minstrelsy, ancient rituals and so on.
In this multimedia rich production, David van Tieghem (a revered post modern percussion/audio/theater artist) interspersed text and sound next to movement and lighting patterns projected by a long-time Jones' collaborator, Robert Wierzel.
Conceived and directed by Bill T. Jones with choreography by Jones and Janet Wong as well as the company members, the complicated visual score speaks loudest when the dancers dive into the movement. Fearless spins sprint into outsized kicks, breath-holding balances and generous embraces. Gentleness splits into daring lifts between all the performers regardless of gender or body proportion. Each dancer speaks their own truth through motion.
Many historical horrifics are forced to the foreground, including P.T. Barnum's exhibition in 1835 of a slave woman, Joice Heth known as the 161 year old "nursing mammy of George Washington." That lead me to remember the way Black politicians were despicably caricatured in white periodicals during the short-lived American Reconstruction.
And that's the nature of Curriculum II's streaming images and text--much too thick to fully digest--instead they instigate a wider realm of thought.
At one point, Philip Strom storms the stage in the American flag ripped into rags and flapping from his limbs as he flings his arms and legs in a whirlwind of thrusting arms and striking legs. Another fierce performer, Nayaa Opong's sharply focused moves, clarity and soulfulness make for captivating viewing.
An animating and disquieting experience, my one desire would be to couple the performance with a conversation illuminating the rich source material from Achille Mbembe to Shakespeare and beyond.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia IPiotis