Featuring: Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company
Running time: 71 minutes, no intermission
When: January 30, 2015
Where: Memorial Auditorium, Stanford University
Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company at www.newyorklivearts.org/#/home
through time and experience
"Maybe we should come back at intermission," says the woman behind me, to everyone and no one. We’ve been waiting in the restroom queue for several minutes, and they’re already flashing the lights for people to take their seats. "The performance is 70 minutes without a break," I say. "I just read it in my program notes." We decide to stay in line.
As the audience hushes, writer and choreographer Bill T. Jones walks out onto the stage. He greets us, apologizes for a husky voice (he’s getting over a cold) and asks us to join him in a warm-up activity before the show: We’re supposed to raise a hand when we think one minute has passed. His stage manager stands by with a stopwatch to start and stop us. I chuckle as hands start going up barely 15 seconds in; at the end of a minute, some people still have not raised their hands, including me. The passage of time is a subjective thing.
"There will be 70 of those this evening," says Jones. We applaud, and he takes his seat at a desk center stage, on which sit a microphone and his script. A giant digital stopwatch behind him starts counting the milliseconds.
"Story/Time" is a dance/theater piece consisting of a series of short, largely autobiographical vignettes narrated by Jones and rivetingly danced by the company. The soundscape by Ted Coffey is rich, demanding attention at the expense of both the story and the movement at times, as do the lighting and set design. There’s so much to take in, we constantly feel like we’re missing half of what’s going on.
But that’s life, isn’t it? It all moves so fast, it bombards all of our senses at once, and we only get to hold onto pieces of it. This is the essence of "Story/Time."
This performance was the 40th iteration of the work, and it was only performed once at the Memorial Auditorium at Stanford. The structure seems disjointed at first – 70, minute-long snippets of text somewhat randomly chosen from a collection of 150, the movement sometimes interpretive and at other times purely abstract. However, patterns and relationships start to emerge as time passes.
There are several stories of terrible things happening to small children, tales Jones recalls being told by older relatives. More than once he brings up Merce Cunningham, John Cage, and the work of choreographing; on a couple of occasions he recounts conversations with homeless people. There is also a recurring theme of fire a child being burned in an accident, smoke rising from a sofa, a jaywalker crossing the street in hot weather and appearing like he was ablaze, and a dancer rolling across the stage with smoke billowing from his body.
At one point, the music becomes so loud it seems to steal the words from Jones’ mouth; that story will never be remembered by anyone other than the teller. At another, the dancers freeze, the music stops, and the narrator remains silent for a long, long minute, while the audience keeps perfectly still and quiet. I wanted to raise my hand well before the end of that section.
Jones is a wonderful choreographer, and a good storyteller. It’s like listening to a really interesting grandpa talk about his life, a memoir recalled on the fly. We start to get a sense of what it might be like to live in Jones’ mind, as one memory leads to another and another.
And he knows that he is pulling his audience in multiple directions, challenging their observation skills. In one section, he states: "Questions about looking and listening are germane to this work. Questions about hearing and listening are germane to this work. Questions about observing and understanding are germane to this work."
At some point in the performance the enormous stopwatch had ascended into the rafters. As it was lowered back down for the final three minutes, I tried my hardest to pay attention to it all, not wanting to miss anything and not wanting it to end. But the last seconds slipped away, and it was over. "Man, I wanna see that again," I heard a fellow audience member say. "There was so much to see!"
But we don’t get a do-over. You get only one life, and there’s only one "Story/Time #40."
Email Virginia Bock at email@example.com