A common (annoying) complaint among New York cultural critics is that there is too much going on in the city. This week, for instance, there are several dance shows that I will not see, with serious regrets. I know – everyone should have such problems. But one show that I will not miss is Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company’s Chapel/Chapter at Harlem Stage Gatehouse, presented by Harlem Stage. Why? Because I missed it the last time around, in 2006, sucked into the cycle of “not enough hours in a day,” and I have rued that decision ever since I watched some video snippets and listened to a litany of raves.
Jones has produced an amazingly vivid and varied body of work since the 70s, when he began to collaborate with his partner Arnie Zane (who died of AIDS in 1988.) Some of his works are simply dance—formal works that present his rigorous, inventive movement without a story, when we can appreciate the skill and beauty of his dancers. He has created topical works that, by their mere mention, have provided endless fodder for critical expostulation. In recent years, he has excelled at choreographing/directing musical theater productions, including Spring Awakening (for which he won a Tony) and Fela!, which is going to Broadway in the fall.
His oeuvre is so diverse that it’s impossible to sum up in a sentence, a paragraph, the space here. One generalization that I can make is that I have never left one of his company’s performances feeling nothing. I remember astonishment, fatigue, frustration, pleasure, anger, awe, elation. And of Chapel/Chapter? I’m looking forward to the transformation of this unique site; the skillful blend of many genres into one cohesive theatrical experience; the skillful interweaving a several story lines; his incredible company packed with dancers who can sing and act as well; the fearless way Jones cuts to the heart of his subject matter, evoking sentiments that are rarely stirred in our daily lives.
So do yourself a favor—catch it now, or you’ll kick yourself like I’ve been doing for three years. It’s on through Sunday June 14.
Photograph by Paul B. Goode.