Arts & Entertainment

Historic duet dance show to take stage in Philly

The Painted Bride Art Center presents Bill T. Jones’ “Body Against Body,” a dance show comprised exclusively of duets from Feb. 21-23.

It takes two to tango – and, in this case, perform a groundbreaking, influential piece.

Bill T. Jones will bring his renowned show “Body Against Body” to the Painted Bride from Feb. 21-23. Jones, a co-founder of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, has been highly recognized for his work in the dance community, including multiple Tony Awards for Best Choreography. “Body Against Body” is considered a return to Jones’ roots and a highly influential postmodern dance performance.

“Body Against Body” has been reviewed as a highly expressive production that is both physically and emotionally rigorous. It was striking new material at the time it was first seen on stage in the 1970s. The performance, which consists solely of duets, focuses on social issues that are reflected in the diversity of the dancers, who are of all races, genders and body types.

“If you think about the time that the work was first produced, it was ground breaking,” Laurel Raczka, the executive director at the Painted Bride, said.  “To have two men dancing together, one black man, one white man, it was unheard of. It’s interesting to think of the impact it will have today, on the stage.”

“Body Against Body” is a show Raczka said she considers to be as important today as when it was first introduced to the world of dance years ago, she said.

“The kind of work we present [at the Painted Bride] is always evolving,” Raczka said. “The thing about this piece is how important it was when it came out, and now we’re showing different work today. I think it’s a continuum, it all influences itself and evolves and grows, and that’s what makes it exciting.”

As social issues change and evolve, so does the purpose of a performance like “Body Against Body,” she said. Not only does the show now offer a historic perspective of influential dance at the time it was conceived, but also insight to Jones.

“This piece shows the spectrum of his genius,” Raczka said. “The ability to see the depth of his vision in his early work I think is very important.”

Jones’ late partner both on and off the stage, Arnie Zane, was the other creative mind behind “Body Against Body.”

Dancers from the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company put in what Raczka called a “lifetime of work” to be fully committed to pivotal performances like this one. The duets in “Body Against Body” are unique not only in their original meaning and purpose, but also in style. Not the least bit similar to side-by-side dancing or other partnered dances, such as ballroom, the performers will overlap space, use each other’s bodies and movements and interact in a symbolic way. There is no leading and following in “Body Against Body,” because its purpose is escaping traditional role relations.

The Painted Bride, located at 230 Vine St., presents a variety of dance that often includes cultural hybrid style. The arts center has always been a place for cultural celebration, a haven for progressive artists and innovative creative expression. Founded in 1969 by volunteer efforts when there were no local Philadelphia theaters and very few art galleries, it has roots to the same era of the origination of “Body Against Body.” The opportunity for a historic dance production to take place in one of the city’s original artistic hubs is something that Raczka said she is looking forward to greatly.

Students have the opportunity to be exposed to “Body Against Body” at a lesser cost than the $25 ticket because of the before and after show events available, some at no cost. Jones will be present at the Bride for a pre-show conversation, accompanied by Ishmael Houston- Jones, another contemporary artist from the New York dance scene. The session will examine the contrast of dancers in the duets as a representation of the social themes they characterize. Jones will also take questions from the audience at this event, which is free of charge on Feb. 23 at 6:30 p.m.

“One of things important to me is to remain responsive and relevant to the community,” Raczka said.

Events like the pre-show conversation with Jones are typical of how the Painted Bride tries to be open to the needs and interests of the community.

“Body Against Body” promises an emotional and captivating performance that is sure to make the spiciest of tangos seem like a tame, chaperoned high school dance. The raw, bold feeling that is represented in the choreography of Bill T. Jones draws on decades of social movements and growth. “Body Against Body” reaches across generational divides to its audience this month.

“[I think] it’s a very important piece in dance history,” Raczka said. “It changed the way that dance was experienced.”

Erin Edinger-Turoff can be reached at erin.edingerturoff@temple.edu. 

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