Dance: Portrait of the artist as a black man
Saturday 13 November 1999
THE BREATHING SHOW
SADLER'S WELLS THEATRE LONDON
WE HAVE often watched Bill T. Jones as part of a duo (with Arnie Zane) or a company (the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company), but never in Britain alone on stage. He says he named his solo programme The Breathing Show because he wanted to take a breather from his company.
At 47, he says, he needed to "reassess what it was about dance that I really love," so unsurprisingly The Breathing Show turns out to be something of a self-portrait. But the title could also be a reference to the physical act of breathing. Jones not only dances, but sings and speaks, so he needs to pace his breathing judiciously. And as if to underline the point the show's designer Bjorn Amelan briefly wanders in with balloons - air bubbles that expand until they explode.
The stage space, circumscribed by pale drapes, is Bill's garden, a place for contemplation and retreat, an inner sanctum, "a little paradise". Sometimes a fragile mobile hangs in the centre, its slender, airy aluminium shards like a stylised tree. At another time a film, Garden, by Abraham Ravett, projects images from Jones's Hudson River home, an allusive evocation of the man through his environment.
On a practical level this episode provides an intermission for Jones, as does another film, Ghostcatching, by Paul Kaiser and Shelley Eshkar. Here technological devices transform Jones's dancing figure into a ghost emptied of character, invisible save for a few delineated contours, its movements tracing curves and squiggles in the air.
Off screen, Jones is an intense individual, a tall and powerfully muscled presence, dancing to Schubert lieder, popular songs and Mozart. He imprints architectural forms with his arms, his long hands extending the straight lines and angles.
His movement seems perverse and halting, while I longed for some logical flow, some overarching pattern. Instead disconnected poses are strung together and interspersed with upper body undulations or leaps, so that a frozen crouch might be followed by shoulder rotations, then pacing about, then arm swings, then hops. Most successful is a long section in which he moves and simultaneously narrates his life history as a black American. It makes a virtue out of his dance postures, incorporating 21 body-ideograms that represent, say, "19th-century melodrama - eek! A mouse" or "Adam before and after". And it allows us to revel in his gift for speech, where words roll resonantly and rhythmic phrases shape themselves in a way his dance does not.
This vocal dexterity makes him an exception among dancers. But he also has the rare gift among performers of charisma, allowing him to transcend most of his material. The Breathing Show depends on the force of an outsize ego, and is too personal anyway to be grafted on anyone else.
The Cardiff-based Diversions perform a Bill T Jones piece, `Nowhere But Here', in a double bill at the Peacock Theatre (0171-863 8222) on 14 November
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Home Office says Nigerian asylum-seeker can’t be a lesbian as she’s got children
- 2 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 3 Drugs Live cannabis trial: Hash is less harmful than any other drug, expert claims
- 4 Turkish Airlines flight TK 726 crash-lands on Nepal runway amid dense fog
- 5 Apple and Google users being spied on for a decade because of 'Freak' security flaw
Kurt Cobain's life and death: Montage of Heck film uses unseen footage to tell Nirvana frontman's story
Mal Peet dead at 67: Tributes to children's author who was 'universally adored'
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Drugs Live: Twitter responds to Jon Snow and Jennie Bond smoking cannabis
Jimmy McGovern's new TV series 'Banished': Why Australia's past has such resonance today
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin and says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'