If dancers are "athletes of God" as Martha Graham said, then the dancers in Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company are the champions.
The New York City-based contemporary dance company, founded in 1982 by Jones and his late partner Arnie Zane, performed Play and Play: An Evening of Movement and Music at the Wisconsin Union Theater's Shannon Hall.
Spent Days out Yonder had the company members clad in sheer, muted tones. A trio repeated a phrase with their backs to the audience. Their arms hinged at the elbows and legs circled beneath them before the rest of the company members rippled nonchalantly across the stage in front of them. The music, Mozart's String Quartet No. 23 in F Major, (well-played by students from UW-Madison who performed throughout the evening) drove the action until the musicians held a note for what seemed like forever, as a dance duo sustained an impossibly long lift.
In Continuous Replay, the incredible Jenna Riegel darted out, nude, in a frenzied burst. She led an ever-expanding tribe across the stage in a phrase that repeated and mutated -- a deep lunge, arms rigid and crossing frantically, then a hand drawn up like a cobra's head. She was all sinew and precision, and as "the clock" she was mechanical and relentless. Beethoven's music was punctuated by a collage of sounds, including narration from the viral video sensation, "The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger," and the dancers' own breath hissing through their teeth. I became so accustomed to the dancers' nudity that it was almost more alarming when they began to dart across the stage in random items of clothing. Riegel remained the only one unclothed while everyone else covered up. Eight dancers from the UW-Madison Dance Department joined the touring company and did solid work.
D-Man in the Waters, originally choreographed in 1989 as a tribute to dancer Demian Acquavella, who was dying from AIDS at the time, was a raucous celebration of play and a reminder of the simple joy of dancing to music in a wide open space (in this case, the music was a glorious octet by Mendelssohn). It also illustrates how a community cares for one of its own. The dancers tended to each other by performing feats of strength along with simple gestures of friendship and compassion. Dressed in camouflage against a blue backdrop, dancers jostled in line as they fluttered their arms, criss-crossing in front of them, like beating wings. Later they stretched their arms out straight and airplaned around the stage. Then they burst free, rolling in and out of the wings. They dove onto and across the stage and into each other's arms, delivering one another to safety.
They exclaimed "let's go" before tossing Erick Montes Chavero high into the air, catching him just as the lights went out. The audience's standing ovation was the least we could do to honor these magnificent dancers and Acquavella's memory.