The central question at the core of Bill T. Jones's potent "Chapel/Chapter" seems to be "How do we carry on with all the horrors our media-saturated culture throws in our faces every day?" It's not a question Jones and his company pretend to answer - he's more interested with getting us to do the soul-searching.
Three stories are told in the space of this 65-minute, Bessie Award-winning work. One is a murderer's confession of the horrific killing of a family in 1974, told with an eerily calm and detailed matter-of-factness. The second recounts a troubled young girl whose father's frustrated attempts to control her escalate to tragedy. The third, spaced out over the course of the evening, is a company member's recollection of witnessing a friend's suicide, yet waiting 18 years before being able to talk about it.
The stories unfurl with a kind of reserve and detachment, letting our imaginations fill in the emotional details as dancers enact being strangled or hit or falling. The violence has a kind of cool reductive abstraction, but the allusions are clear. Sometimes the movement is propulsive and raw, as dancers fling themselves into off-balance turns that send them tumbling and sliding across the floor, legs slicing, arms stabbing. Weighted walks, rolls, and balances evoke the fluid shifts of capoeira. Maija Garcia's bouncy leaps beautifully capture the energy and mischief of "the troubled girl." At other times, the movement is in slow motion, almost ritualistic, mournfully reflective. In between the storytelling are interludes, often high-energy, even jazzy, and feeding off pulsating neon colors in the lighting design. It's as if to say, "Yes, horrible things happen, but we can still dance. That's one way we carry on."
Movement and text are complemented by vivid imagery. Bjorn Amelan's grid-like set design places white screens on the wall and under the dancers' feet, and Janet Wong's gorgeous video projections change time and place on a dime, from a hopscotch game to red butterflies that seem to burst from the troubled girl's special box. As dancers engage in choreographic charades involving different "roads" ("The road to heaven," "The road to hell," etc.), text flies across the screens, implying how many choices the world presents us and how quickly we sometimes must make them. Robert Wierzel's stunning lighting adds yet another dimension, as when the blue of water seems to carry Erick Montes, as the suicidal Cameron in the third story, downstream, tumbling gently end over end.
Sometimes text is spoken by the dancers, sometimes sung by the musicians. The score, primarily composed and arranged by Daniel Bernard Roumain, ranges from folk tunes and modal melodies to an atmospheric soundscape and is performed by vocalist Jennifer Jade Ledesna, guitarist/vocalist Lawrence "Lipbone" Redding, and cellist Christopher Antonio William Lancaster.
Toward the end, the stories recap in bits and pieces, mixed up with fractured recitations of the Lord's Prayer. But it feels almost like an epilogue. The real ending for this viewer came moments before, when Montes, as the murdered family's beloved dog, lets loose a mournful howl that pulls the entire cast into searing primal scream.