Archive for the ‘Contemporary Dance Theater’s 40FORTY GALA’ Category


January 24, 2016


The celebrated Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company revisits seminal works

– by Kathy Valin, reprinted from Cincinnati CityBeat 1/20/16

Eight members of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company appear this weekend in Body Against Body at The Aronoff Center. The company was founded in 1982 by Jones and his partner Zane, who died in 1988. Cincinnati audiences will see three illuminating pieces that return to company roots: Duet X 2 and Shared Distance, both small, intimate works from 1982 performed in silence; and Continuous Replay, an early solo concept from Zane most recently revised as a full company piece in 1994, set to “Music for Octet” composed and assembled by Jerome Begin after Beethoven string quartets.

Jones soldiered on after Zane’s death. Today their company is one of the most acclaimed in the dance-theater world – it has performed in some 200 cities in 40 countries on every continent. His major honors include a MacArthur (“Genius”) Award, the Kennedy Center Honors and two Tony Awards for Best Choreography.

Jones was born in Florida to itinerant farm workers, and raised in New York State. Though he starred as a high school track athlete, he soon discovered dance. He met Zane in college. The two young men made an unlikely pair.

Born in the Bronx, Zane was small, lithe and Italian-Jewish, with an interest in photography and martial arts. Jones was tall, black and powerfully built, adept at movement but also fluent in the conceptual and choreographic realms. Their early duets exploited their physical differences.

“They were also inspired by avant-gardism,” says associate artistic director Janet Wong. “They thought they were being ‘bad asses’. They were doing very intimate work. Subject matter tended to civil rights, identity politics, and counterculture movements. The two were also pioneers in the use of contact improvisation, a weight sharing technique, to generate movement.”

Reviving these early pieces in programs the company calls Body Against Body, she says, is a way that audiences and current company members can meet and know Zane. And though the works take on new life through the diverse dancers in the company today, they remain conceptually and physically rigorous, and some of the most significant examples of the postmodern aesthetic, which counts everyday movement as a valid art form.

Jenna Reigel and Talli Jackson recently talked with me about their roles in the Cincinnati production. Reigel dances two roles originated by Zane. Jackson performs in all three works, twice in roles originated by Jones.

Both appear in “Shared Distance,” a duet originally danced by Jones and Zane.
After Zane’s death, a petite firecracker of a woman named Julie West took on his role, according to Reigel, who dances that role this weekend. “In the spirit and nature of the duets Bill and Arnie were making, there was task-based material, but the dance was also an exploration of the dynamic of their personalities,” she says. “Bill talked a lot with me about this. For me, it was about being smaller but spunkier, with attitude. Sort of like ‘Anything you can do, I can. If you’re gonna lift me, I’m gonna lift you.’”

Jackson, who at 6’ 2” is a full foot taller than Reigel, says there is a wonderful spectrum between athletic moves in the piece and movements of real subtlety and tenderness, all held together within a very clean formal structure and a beautiful, spare post-modern sensibility.

They each find the absence of music to be liberating. “Rhythm and musicality and dynamics are recalled and understood or found between the two dancers each time it is performed,” says Reigel. “There is freedom on any given night how long the piece might be.”

Jackson thinks music has a tremendously powerful presence in space. “With silence, there can be a vast emptiness somewhat parallel to a blank page,” he says. “It can be scary. But, at the same time, it’s easier to focus on internal rhythms and musicality. It allows us to sing our own songs with our own bodies, to listen to our partner. It starts to be about ‘what rhythm are we going to play tonight,’ and a subtle difference in my partner can add spice or sensual sparkle.”

Continuous Replay, the evening closer, has been called a locomotive of a piece. “It’s based on an accumulation of forty-five phrases by Arnie,” says Wong, “choreographed in the gym where they rehearsed. Arnie was a karate master, attuned to sharp, precise motions. He eventually made that dance into a solo.”

After Zane’s death, with a performance date set but with no company piece because of a family emergency for a dancer, Jones made the solo into a full company piece. The lead role is called “the clock.” It’s the dancer who leads the accumulation of phrases.

“As more and more dancers enter the stage, they put on more and more of their costumes as the phrases accumulate,” says Wong. “We’d always only had a feisty, precise male dancer to Arnie’s part as ‘clock,’ but about five years ago we thought Jenna would be good. She has that kind of mind.”

“Bill and Arnie had an interest in film and this idea of 24 frames per second. So they often choreographed with still shapes making a series – having movements arise from transitioning from one shape to another,” says Reigel. “And, as “clock,” basically, I set the pace for everything that happens around the phrase collection. I’m very honored to be the first female to dance the role.”

Wong says she and Jones are proud of the early works the company performs today. “I think the ones we revive have survived the test of time,” she says. “I think they have a formal, honest athleticism, and for me they still stand up well.”

She says every time there’s a revival, Bill makes some changes. “He’s grown. Things change.

“When we revive we also ask ‘how do we let go of gender?’ We freed it up because the dancers are making some sort of connection to reflect a sort of shorthand Bill and Arnie had. It’s not just formal structuralism we are repeating, it’s about their life, their connection.”



July 10, 2013


Well, the update here is that the same somebody who stole my plants before returned. The thief took the flower box you can see on the ground in the background and even dug out the tall pink caladiums from my big box. Bummer.


April 10, 2013



Reprinted from CityBeat

– by Kathy Valin

When someone falls in love with dance, it’s often a lifetime experience. It’s been that way for Jefferson James, founder, artistic director and ceo of Contemporary Dance Theater (CDT), today Cincinnati’s premiere presenter of a diversity of contemporary dance regularly appearing at downtown’s Aronoff Center.

Over the years, thanks to James, CDT has evolved from a now defunct shoestring performing company (from which dancers like Peggy Lyman, who blossomed into a Graham soloist, graduated) into a lauded non-profit based in College Hill’s elegant and spacious Old Town Hall. The space functions as a performance venue for dancers, actors and musicians, in addition to hosting dance classes (from ballet to modern to hip-hop), workshops, and rehearsals.

Saturday, friends and supporters of CDT will celebrate CDT’s fortieth season with a FORTY40 GALA at the historic Emery Theater in Over-the-Rhine. Dedicated supporter and board member Elizabeth Collins, who designed the event, says, “CDT is beautiful. It presents and produces dance and performing arts that are diverse and socially relevant. There’s something for everyone.”

The fundraiser offers guests food, beverages, dancing and mixing and mingling on the Emery’s stage to global jazz-pop-fusion from pianist Billy Larkin. Of course, there’s a requisite City Proclamation, silent auction, and retrospective displays of photos, programs and costumes, plus video presentations looking back on CDT’s rich history.

It’s hard to overestimate James’ influence on Cincinnati modern dance, especially as a presenter. Her passion and vision have allowed Cincinnati audiences to experience over 200 dance performances, including those from crossover headliners Pilobolus (pictured above), Parsons Dance Company, and Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane and Company.

But there have been a host of other visitors and styles probably unfamiliar to the general public but luminaries nevertheless in the modern dance world – artists in recent years like PHILADANCO, Koresh Dance Company, David Dorfman Dance, ZviDance, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, im’ij-r/Amy Seiwert, Ronald K. Brown/Evidence, Rennie Harris/Pure Movement, Danny Buraczeski’s JAZZDANCE – too many to list.

“I have long admired the caliber of companies that Contemporary Dance Theater brings to our community,” says Cincinnati Ballet’s artistic director and ceo Victoria Morgan. “Classical technique is near and dear to my heart, but I am enthralled by the depth of human expression through contemporary work. It connects to the heart and soul, it astounds us with what is physically and humanly possible.”

“I announced early on I was gonna be a dancer,” remembers James, who grew up in Alexandria, Virginia. “I started classes because my parents, who were writers and actors, knew Evelyn Davis, who taught in Washington, D.C. I lived on the bus for a number of years. I took an hour and a half modern class from her, and then took ballet at the Washington School of the Ballet.

“I was never completely comfortable in ballet class. When I was seven or eight, they wanted me to do a turn. I was used to dancing barefoot, and couldn’t balance in my shoes, so I took them off. I was kicked out of class!” she remembers. “But, of course I went back.”

Much later, James met her husband, Martin James while she was a dance student at Juilliard in Manhattan, and followed him to Cincinnati when he was hired by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Of her subsequent teaching and hatching the idea of a modern dance company, she now says “I did it very selfishly, because I wanted to have dance in my life, and so I had to help make some.

“At first, we had guest artists and we sort of invited them to stay and perform with us. So, that was the beginning of presenting.”

James cites what she thinks of as stylistic cycles – for instance, between narrative versus more abstract works, between more formalized versus pedestrian moves and between music-driven and music-independent choreography.

“In modern dance, we’ve always had this variety of choreographic visions and intentions overlapping each other. The form and technology especially have certainly evolved, but I’m not sure there is continuous change in one direction.

“Modern dance is a fluid art form. But it’s ours in the studio. It’s time sensitive. It requires a lot of time to develop a piece. Not just in the creating of it but in the learning of it. So that part hasn’t changed at all.

“It still takes a long time to make, teach, perform.”

And one more thing: “The dance you see tomorrow won’t be the dance you see the next day. The dance is ephemeral. The best way to see it is live.”

#  #  #

What: Contemporary Dance Theater’s FORTY40 Gala

Where: The Emery Theatre: free valet parking

112 Walnut Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202

When:  Saturday, April 13, 2013, 7- 10 pm

Admission: $40; tickets available at or at the door