Arts & Culture

Bill T. Jones’ trilogy ends ADF season on a rare note

Dancers Shane Larson, Antonio Brown, and Rena Butler in “Analogy Trilogy: Ambros: The Emigrant.”
Dancers Shane Larson, Antonio Brown, and Rena Butler in “Analogy Trilogy: Ambros: The Emigrant.” Paul B. Goode/Courtesy American Dance Festival

Once again, Bill T. Jones and his “crew” of collaborators create a compelling, multimedia production – the third and last part of his “Analogy Trilogy: Ambros: The Emigrant.” The world premiere, before a large and attentive Durham Performing Arts Center audience on Saturday, marked the last performance in the American Dance Festival’s season.

What a way to go out!

Presented by the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, this finale followed the Thursday and Friday separate showings of the first two works in the trilogy – “Analogy/Dora: Tramontane” and “Analogy/Lance: Pretty aka the Escape Artist” – giving dancegoers a rare opportunity to see the entire trilogy performed consecutively.

“Analogy/Ambros: The Emigrant” begins with the live sound of whispering voices and Bill T. Jones’ recorded recitation of evocative text from W. G. Sebald’s “The Emigrants,” a fictionalized history of four men, including Ambros Adelwarth, a German manservant who serves as companion to Cosmo, the privileged son of a wealthy Jewish family. The narrative tracks Ambros’ experience traveling with Cosmo, through Europe and the Middle East on the eve of WWII.

The recorded text describes how Ambros Adelwarth and his charge, Cosmo, asleep on the deck of a steam ship on their way to an excursion abroad, are visited by a quail, who lands on Cosmo, settles down to sleep, and then flies away in the morning.

In this work, Jones and collaborators, who include assistant artistic director Janet Wong, amaze with their scope and with the engaging quality of the multi-media elements woven seamlessly into the work.

The live music provides a rare treat as does the dancers’ singing with professional flare. Most of the time, their singing, both in solos and in harmony with others, is achingly beautiful.

In the case of dancer I-Ling Liu, a native of Taiwan, the sounds she produces had a visceral, hair-raising effect on this listener – and, no doubt, on others in the audience. She emits tortured, eerie sounds in response to one of Jones’ prompts to imagine: “You’re the lobster being torn on the plate.” Jones took that image from a dream in “The Emigrants.”

These dancers not only sing but also tell the story through acting and movement and even rearrange set pieces, designed by Bjorn Amelan. Some dancers also appear on projected video images in which they give their read on the story of Ambros and/or relate to it though personal experience with an aging relative.

Needless to say, keeping up with everything is a challenge but the more attentive, the more the reward. It helps that dates are projected on a large screen because, like Sebald’s work, time often shifts from the past to the present, in the same way that memory tends to occur.

And, it helps to have previously seen, the first two parts of Jones’ trilogy, presented one at a time in 2015 and 2016 at ADF in order to become more accustomed to taking in more of what is happening onstage.

Jones’ trilogy helps cultivate a greater sense of empathy and respect for people real – as in the first two parts – or presumably imagined as in the third part.

What, oh what, will Jones do next? In the post-performance talk, he said he’s thinking of film-making but for now will continue with the company he and his late partner Arnie Zane created.