BOSTON — TIME weighs on the mind of choreographer Bill T. Jones. It is the kind of time that has to be held off, nailed down, or somehow harnessed. His dances also divert time, twisting its solemn steady march into a gleeful children's parade.
This preoccupation of Jones's was apparent last week during his troupe's performances in Boston, presented by Dance Umbrella. The visit was part of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company's 1993-94 tour, and most of the dances will be new to audiences outside New York. Two of them provide a window into the working of Jones's mind, in the same way a clock opens to reveal the mechanism that makes it tick.
``And the Maiden,'' a solo danced by Andrea E. Woods, unfolds a black woman's meditation on her life, moving through it and looking back on it. Hardships are signaled by the way she carries herself, weighed down by slavery, religious bigotry, childbirth, and thoughts of her own mortality.
But Ms. Woods, dancing to a cappella songs recorded at a women's penitentiary, exudes a spirit that cannot be crushed. The defiant lift of her chin and the command of her gaze gives her a regal presence. Upstage, a skeleton hangs with a light in its cavity, serving as a foil for her exuberant moments. When Woods finishes, she reaches into the skeleton and snuffs out the light.
For Jones, death is tightly intertwined with dancing. The choreographer's partner, Arnie Zane, died in 1988 of what was diagnosed as AIDS, and that loss still pervades the choreographer's work. Jones himself tested positive for the AIDS virus, so the issue of time passing is especially acute for him. It gives a further urgency and poignancy to his dances, especially the ones in which he performs.
The second dance that stands time on its head is ``Freedom of Information, Section III,'' choreographed by Zane in 1984 and restaged by Jones in 1990.
Here the dancers move frenetically across the stage, jerking and flailing, shimmying and gliding. On a screen behind them, projections display unfocused images of lines intersecting, parting, and reassembling. The half-dozen or so dancers populate the stage as if each represented hundreds of bodies stretching backward and forward in time.
A strong image comes to mind of Fritz Lang's 1926 silent film ``Metropolis,'' in which a man is forced to become the hands of a giant clock in a subterranean world inhabited by slaves.
In ``Freedom of Information,'' time is kept by a recorded voice like a music instructor's, saying ``Listen: one, two, three, four,'' and the performers make precise gestures with their arms like metronomes.
Jones uses his dancers here as architectural elements, similar to the way Lang used his actors. But mixed in with the precision is a sense of chaos, humor, confusion, exaltation, and doom.
This choreographer's work pulses with a vitality that continues to gather maturity and power.
* The company performs next at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, N. J. (May 24). For other tour dates, call: (212) 477-1850.