Dance: The road less travelled by

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Ask a silly question. Would Bill T Jones (right) like to tell me about his latest work? He gives me enough material for a dissertation. ``You'd think by now, I'd have it down to a sound-bite.'' The full-evening work which uses the music of Stravinsky, John Cage and Peteris Vasks, is intriguingly entitled We set out early... visibility was poor. ``It sounds like the first line of an epic poem, but actually it's a very whimsical take on any number of journeys... personal, societal. A new piece is always new food for the company.''

His dancers are a mixed bag ``Simply because of their different training, their different bodies - that's what I love about them, quite frankly. Sometimes there'll be a balletic placement of the leg, but the back will shudder and shake as if you're doing an Afro-Caribbean movement.'' Movements are often written on Jones's own body: ``I now put on music, say Stravinsky, and I try to dance to its textures. I put it on as if it were a pop record, and just dance and then videotape the results. Then my rehearsal director, Janet Wong, and I watch the tapes and codify it. Janet has revolutionised the way I work.''

Jones's most famous work to date is the 1994 piece Still/Here, a multi- media marathon which used HIV-positive dancers and incorporated the filmed testimony of Aids sufferers. Jones's own fame, the death of his partner, Arnie Zane, from an Aids-related illness in 1988, and the sensational nature of the subject, ensured a steady supply of press coverage, but the whole thing went into overdrive in December 1994. Arlene Croce, doyenne of American dance criticism (who had not actually seen the piece), insisted in her New Yorker article that such ``victim art'' was unreviewable and argued that Still/Here was typical of an essentially Philistine trend in which the emotional pull of the material bypasses the audience's critical response and goes straight for the gut. Art made in this way, argued Croce, rendered the professional critic expendable.

All very interesting stuff, but, four years later, it no longer interests Bill T Jones: ``I am resistant to even commenting on it. I'm sorry it didn't come to Britain and that people didn't see the work for themselves. It now exists as a videotape. If this tape had been available back then, a lot of the distrust and misunderstanding might have been alleviated.''

Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Peacock Theatre, WC2 (0171-314 8800) 17-21 Mar

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