Amazing how Bill T. Jones’ work looks and feels as fresh as ever in his company’s 25th year. Serenade/The Proposition, at the Joyce through last Sunday, takes inspiration from Abraham Lincoln, whose bicentennial approaches. The performance combines Jones’ elegant choreography, spoken text, and live chamber orchestra and singer in a rich, luminous hour-long work.
At its heart is the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, which although constantly evolving, always thrills with a heady chemistry arising from a combo of strong individuals. Paul Matteson, a perennial warm presence in the dance world, traces Lincoln’s virtues with his gentle motion, noble bearing, and willingness to aid others. The company members periodically strike unique poses to form a “spine” bisecting the stage, regrouping before bursting apart in individual phrases—a neat metaphor for the united and sometimes disunited states of America.
The text—spoken with forceful gravity by Jamyl Dobson—weaves more official and historical observations with Jones’ personal ones; Matteson takes the mic for a spell later on. Lisa Komara, dressed in a business suit, stands at a mirroring lectern to sing; she feels like a more artful iteration of Lincoln, more melodic and lighter in spirit. The musicians play below her on audience level. The music supports the show, grabbing the spotlight at appropriate moments. We watch Matteson wander onstage in briefs, letting Janet Wong’s atmospheric, scrolling video wash over him for a while, and then as women dress him, wrapping red duct tape around his waist as a cummerbund. Costumes can often be an afterthought, but Anjia Jalac’s inventive, well-tailored interpretations of Civil War era garb simultaneously ring of then and now.
Jones has long collaborated fruitfully with artistic peers from other fields, and his more recent Broadway projects seem to have galvanized his ability to balance many different elements. He can draw your attention wherever he intends to onstage. It doesn’t hurt that he crafts sections like puzzles that seem to solve themselves before us, as in a male quartet that thrusts, unfolds, and recedes repeatedly. Twenty-five years in NYC is a long time for a dance company, but don’t take Jones for granted. His work continues along powerfully. He’s also on Broadway now with Fela!, which he directs and choreographs, and which generates more energy than a power plant.
Image: Paul Matteson (standing); Peter Chamberlin (being lifted); Maija Garcia. Photo by Paul B. Goode.