Jones alumni are reuniting for dances at ICA
NEW YORK - Choreographer Heidi Latsky struts like a fashion model in a Lower Manhattan studio, spreading her arms wide with an intentionally forced smile, then spinning down to the floor, where she takes one sculptural pose after another before slithering, snake-like, off to the side. Even with no music, costumes, or special lighting, one can feel the yearning at the core of her soulful piece, “Gimp.’’
A former member of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Latsky recently rehearsed an excerpt from the work for the “Bill T. Jones Alumni: Summer Reunion,’’ which will be presented by Summer Stages Dance at Concord Academy and the Institute of Contemporary Art on July 15-16 at the ICA.
“Bill showed me how dance has the potential to be potently expressive, provocative, and evocative,’’ Latsky says, preparing to go over the sequence again. Along with five other prominent former members of the troupe - Lawrence Goldhuber, Arthur Aviles, Alexandra Beller, Sean Curran, and Andrea E. Woods - she will honor Jones’s legacy in “Summer Reunion’’ with work created for her own company.
Richard Colton, the director of Summer Stages Dance, came up with the idea for the extraordinary gathering. “We want to show audiences what happens in the creation of dance and how dance gets passed on,’’ he says. “That’s why we are looking at what it meant for these artists to work with Bill and Arnie, and how they mirror and modify that influence.’’ (In a post-performance dialogue, the choreographers will reflect on their experience with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. Zane, who was Jones’s partner, died in 1988.)
Jones can’t be in Boston for the event, but he will certainly be there in spirit. All these men and women danced with his company at some point from its inception in 1983 into the early ’90s.
“I choose dancers by what my heart needed,’’ Jones says. “I wanted vivid people. I wanted to make them into changers who could lead. I didn’t want acolytes. I didn’t want to create a family; I’m too self-involved to be a dad. I wanted to build a community, with people who could transcend differences.’’
No one could mistake any of these choreographers for Jones imitators. Fiercely individualistic, each one has pursued a unique path since leaving his company.
Latsky, a native of Montreal who started out as a jazz dancer before joining Jones and Zane, caused a sensation in 2008 when she first presented the compelling “Gimp’’ for her company, Heidi Latsky Dance, which integrates disabled and non-disabled dancers. And though it may not look like a Jones piece, it does draw something of its sensibility from him.
“Bill finds beauty in everyday people,’’ she says. “He likes different bodies and personalities. I’m sure I fell into working with disabled dancers because of him.’’
Being a member of Jones’s company has always been challenging, as the choreographer expects his dancers to have a deep understanding of techniques, ranging from classical ballet to contact improvisation and everything in between.
“I cried in my first rehearsals,’’ Latsky says. “You learned pretty quickly that there’s no fail-safe in dance. I was very vulnerable, very exposed. But when you’re vulnerable and exposed, incredible things happen.’’
Weighing more than 300 pounds, Goldhuber might never have been accepted into a dance company were it not for Jones and Zane appreciating his talents. “Arnie fell in love with Larry’s great range of expression,’’ Jones says.
Goldhuber had previously been an actor, set on a commercial path. “Bill and Arnie taught me how to be an artist,’’ he says.
The company’s long tours together, particularly in Jones’s provocative “Still/Here,’’ which he choreographed in 1994, helped cement their bonds. He based it on the raw material he gathered in “Survival Workshops,’’ attended by young to elderly volunteers around the country who talked about their life-threatening illnesses.
“We were 280 days on the road,’’ Goldhuber recalls. “I’m very proud of my years with Bill.’’ At the ICA, he will present an excerpt from “Trellis,’’ the story of a love triangle.
Fittingly, as a mother pregnant with her second child, Alexandra Beller will perform “egg,’’ a solo about a woman’s conflicting emotions in the first year of motherhood. (Beller will also present the premiere of her “other stories’’ as part of the Co Lab: Process + Performance series at the ICA on July 23.)
More than anything, Beller says, Jones impressed her with how he considered and committed to each image, relationship, and phrase of movement.
“I try to bring the same faith, consciousness, and attention to my process,’’ she says. “It’s scarier than it sounds.’’
Curran won a place in the troupe with his sense of humor and dance technique. He now heads his own company and directs and choreographs operas.
“Arnie and Bill showed us how to be in the world,’’ Curran says. “They taught us about the power and politics of art. They showed us how dance could make a physical connection with our spirits. They said that art could organize your life and be similar to a religion, with theaters the sacred places.’’
He puts that philosophy into action in the powerful “Aria/Apology,’’ which he will excerpt at the ICA. Highly emotional, it alternates recordings of Handel arias sung by Renée Fleming with individuals’ recorded confessions of rape and murder (and their self-justifications). No one could miss the piece’s moral and political connection to Jones.
The ’80s saw the worst of the AIDS epidemic in the United States, and it deeply affected Jones, Zane, and many who worked with them.
“I learned from them to take strength and pride in my sexuality,’’ says Aviles, whose “Elysian Fields’’ and “This Pleasant and Grateful Asylum’’ will be his contribution at ICA. He also proved his commitment to Jones’s ideal of community by establishing the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance in 1998.
But the importance of social issues and community was only part of what they learned from Jones. Woods, artistic director of Souloworks, recalled Jones’s dancers becoming mesmerized when they watched him perform his solos.
“He’d go deeper and deeper every time,’’ she says. “It showed us just how much risk an artist could take and the amazing results.’’
In her piece “Kujichagulia (Self Determination) to the Max,’’ which will be presented at the ICA, she quotes phrases from Jones/Zane works, combining them with Afro-Cuban movement and infusing them with the spirit of jazz drummer Max Roach’s music.
“I’m driven,’’ she says, “by that question Bill always asked: ‘How much further can I go?’ ’’
Valerie Gladstone can be reached at email@example.com.