Bill T. Jones is making the dances everyone wishes they were making. Multi-ethnic, intergenerational, international, interdisciplinary, and collaborative -- all these they certainly are. Covering the centennial of Igor Stravinsky's monumental Rite of Spring: check. Yet all of these, any of which would be enough for another choreographer, are peripheral to Jones's creation of a monumental work in its own right, in a partnership with Anne Bogart of SITI Company and Janet Wong, which was given its West Coast premiere at the Lam Research Theater at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts October 11-13.
Jones and Bogart have not attempted to preserve the original narrative of the Rite. Instead, they take its themes of sacrifice, loss, and renewal, and consider them in the context of the century that has intervened between the beau monde who broke out in fistfights and riots at Nijinsky's original staging for the Ballet Russes in Paris to the present condition of oversaturated senses, overpopulation, and the greater weight of alienation in an overwhelming universe.
The piece begins with a bare electric lightbulb illuminated against a darkened stage. The company rushes in: a mass, a grid, a chaos, a union, a unison, an individual. This vision is repeated throughout, though the form is never the same--it is unsettling and familiar, creating both the order art overlays on a disorderly world and the defamiliarization art insists upon a world we have learned to perceive in order to survive.
One beautiful repetition is the peculiar moment when Akiko Aizawa emerges from the crowd to declare, "I dreamed that sunrise was coming." She repeats this line with the fingers of her left hand outspread, capturing both despair and hope, walking delicately over the stools that the others place beneath her, one by one, first on the stage and then, miraculous and ordinary, in the air and up the air, lifted on the arms of the others, rooted in her own personal gravity.
One terrifying repetition is the character produced by Will Bond, a World War I veteran who enters singing the words "We're here" to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne," that familiar song that means remembrance but is sung in anticipation of the new. The closest bearer to a narrative within the piece, Bond speaks, stutters, forgets, hunts, reenacts the sputtering rat-a-tat of ammunition, attempts to have a memory, attempts to have a future. Through him, we see the trembling of the original sacrifice as both an uncontrollable, inexplicable violence and as our loneliness in the presence of others. He embodies the fear of others and the chaos they create, as well as, in the final quiet of the piece, our greater fear of silence and isolation.
One humorous repetition is created by Ellen Lauren in the role of a musicologist, who provides a historical and theoretical breakdown of the music itself and conducts the performers in an a cappella performance of the score in seven-part harmony. Her analysis imparts method to the music, yet even she becomes possessed by its auguring chord, the dissonance and cadence of which drives the stage to feral confusion.
It must be mentioned that what A Rite does for walking is nothing short of transcendent. It is by nature and definition pedestrian, but it also creates a scene of persons as a scene of particles in motion, random, accidental. It appears throughout, because to step and to dance is first to walk. It appears in conjunction or in coincidence with monologues on the physics of space-time.
The light bulb reappears near the end of the piece in a liquid crystal conformation on a flat screen TV. The company sings the score a cappella. The soldier runs behind a curtain slit like a zoetrope laid out flat, forward and back, appearing to fly in a time that we have learned stands still.
Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and SITI Company present A Rite at 8pm Oct 11-12 and 3pm Oct 13 at the Lam Theater at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 700 Howard, S.F. Tickets are $30-$40.