The stories of our lives are dysfunctional and untidy, lurching through the monumental and mundane with uneven rhythms punctuated by passion and melancholy. Years pass, events become blurred and distorted. Memory is unreliable. Truth is subjective.
So, as artists, how do we tell stories – our own and others’ – vividly yet honestly? For me, this is at the heart of Bill T. Jones’ Analogy Trilogy.
Memories of my 10 years (’84 – ’94) dancing with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company are marked by loss and, near the end, addiction. It was a harrowing time in the lives of artists devastated by the AIDS epidemic, and Bill’s work explored hyper-personal themes surrounding identity, politics, race, and sexuality. Company members’ experiences were deeply entwined in the work. We danced as though our lives depended on it, fighting the culture wars and, as Bill would later say, moving furiously toward “sweaty epiphanies.”
We find ourselves in tumultuous times again, and many of us are looking to art to connect history to the present, express our beliefs, honor memories, and reveal what is true. These days, Bill’s work still breaks aesthetic boundaries and challenges stereotypes, but his focus has shifted outward, telling the stories of captivating individuals who have led incredible lives. Recent projects have performers moving, speaking and singing in equal measure, advancing the narrative in three dimensions. In Analogy Trilogy, the characters live in times of war, but the real conflicts are internal.
Analogy/Dora shares the early life of Dora Amelan, the mother of Bill’s husband Bjorn and a nurse and social worker at an underground Jewish organization in French internment camps during World War II. Her story of heroism and perseverance is worthy of family honor and pride. Set in the clubs, sex trade and prisons of the 80s and early 90s, Analogy/Lance, the intimate story of a gay African American man – Bill’s nephew – exists in stark contrast, teetering on the edge of personal euphoria and familial failure.
Analogy/Ambros reflects on stalwart German valet Ambros Adelwarth from W.G. Sebald’s historical novel, The Emigrants. It chronicles Ambros’ travels with his youthful and deviant charge, Cosmos, through Europe and the Middle East before World War I and, later, his pain following Cosmo’s death. I can’t help but to remember Bill and Arnie – all that their life together and Arnie’s death in 1989 meant to me.
Dora, Lance, and Ambros are haunting, gravitational stories that connect across place and time to express the unexpressed inner lives of three distinctive individuals. Working alongside Bill and the dancers, collaborators Nick Hallett (composer) Bjorn Amelan (décor), Janet Wong (video), Robert Wierzel (lighting), and Liz Prince (costumes) create a thoughtful, interwoven landscape.
Mining oral histories, complicated family relationships, and a quasi-fictional novel, the trilogy questions expectations surrounding class, ethnicity, gender, race, and sexuality, reflecting on what it means to be our authentic selves in the face of displacement, heartbreak and our own mortality.
Seán Curran danced with The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company from 1983 to 1994. Seán is the chair of the Dance Department at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and the Artistic Director and Choreographer of Seán Curran Company which will appear at BAM’s Next Wave Festival from October 24 to 27.