In post-modern dance, old rules are out -- almost any movement has its value
Cambridge, Mass. — Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane have been described as ''the hot tickets of post-modern dance.''
Whatever you think of them, to see them dance is to be surprised, delighted, alarmed, and thrilled. As modern dancers have done since Merce Cunningham split with Martha Graham in 1954, they are more likely to lope across the stage than move like dancers.
But post-modern dance doesn't insist on the stripped-down aesthetics of movement for its own sake. Some works even include nondancers; some, great technicians. Having learned Cunningham's lesson - that any movement has an intrinsic value of its own which, understood properly, can be part of a dance - this generation is less doctrinaire.
Though abstract and unadorned, the dancing of Jones and Zane tells stories, a practice modern dance has generally disdained. Recently at the Harvard Summer Dance Festival, even a 1977 piece called ''Continuous Replay'' - a brilliantly executed series of slashing hand signals and lunges - had a plot. The characters were the dancers, and the plot was their partnership.
It is a strange partnership. Arnie Zane, a small, wiry, intense white man, started the dance, moving his arms like lightning bolts and directing his gaze so energetically that you looked where he looked. Then, Bill T. Jones, a black man at least a foot taller, came on, rolling his hands as if to loosen them up. Jones joined Zane in his lunges - in a way. That is, he stayed cool, rolling his hands with velvet-soft composure and eyeing Zane, only joining in at the last minute, and then without any urgency.
He looked as if he were dancing more slowly than Zane, though they were in sync. Jones has such a distinct presence that when he moves with Zane, his dancing comments on Zane's. To get around stage they usually just pace (though at one point, as if to keep up with Jones's strides, Zane does a cartwheel). When there are lifts, they seem to be just giving each other a hand through the air.
The dancing has a low-key brilliance. Watching the two together was as compelling as watching the comfortable, feet-on-the-ground Wally talk about life to his anxiously experimental friend Andre in ''My Dinner With Andre.''
As in the movie, not a lot happens in strictly dramatic terms, but a lot goes on. They emphasize their differences - race, size, and attitude. These are two distinct characters in dialogue, sometimes in argument. You find yourself watching with bated breath, wondering how it will come out. You are not disappointed. The way they work at their partnership before your eyes makes the dance brilliant and, finally, inspiring.
''Three dances,'' which Jones did solo, has more drama, because he talks while dancing. The first dance, the graceful ''Adagio,'' looks like a studio workout. He put himself through graceful, half-balletic moves, but little human reactions interrupted the sweep of the movement. Head framed by graceful arms, he stepped to the side, feet folding beautifully in position.
Everything flowed, except that his head snapped to the side as if he had been bitten by a mosquito. Doing an arabesque, leg stretched back, one arm forward and one out to the side, he put a hand down on the floor and did a couple of push-ups. And during one stately, swooping gesture, he yawned hugely.
The audience laughed, but became uneasy as he kept going through these elegant poses. Then he suddenly, as if uncontrollably, roared ''No!'' It was a shock in such a lyrical piece. His body continued to perform smoothly, more shouts of protest coming out at unpredictable points. His dancing is as articulate as his talk, the moves as fast and definite as words. You are not just watching beautiful movement, you are watching someone working on a problem. As he bellowed ''No!'' it was as if there were another character trying to express itself, to interrupt the dance. But the dance kept going.He talked about his brother, as if to say, ''A dance isn't the whole story.'' The quiet, smooth dance, juxtaposed with the story of a young fellow wasted by prison, became very poignant.
By the end, when he said, ''I wish I knew all of you,'' the barrier between the audience and the performer had been lowered. Jones's effort to keep dancing while telling a story had borne fruit. He kept the story and dance going without getting winded or stumbling. And one saw that the man with stories to tell and his dance are one.
With tinges of humor, Jones and Zane capered to disco music in ''Rotary Action.'' While doing an old jitterbug move in which partners hold hands and swing under their arms, Jones simply pulled the smaller Zane off the floor and deposited him on the other side of himself. The jokes - like the somber moments - come out of the dancers' great differences and their shared commitment to express them as partners, which is a kind of resolution in itself.
Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane will do these and other dances in the Brooklyn Academy of Music's ''Next Wave'' series in February.