Tuesday, October 18, 2016
Williams Center for the Arts
By Sarah Carlson
Stripped of its dressings, a stage is no more transporting than your typical empty space. In fact, it is even less so because of its raw exposed elements like light poles, rigging and lighting instruments. The stage feels naked, its secrets totally exposed. The Williams Center for the Arts has a back wall of cinderblock that presents a blank slate of sorts but also feels, well, institutional in a bomb-shelter kind of way. It was into this apropos space that the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane company came to mount its latest production that recounts the memoire of Dora Amelan, a French Jewish nurse and her experience during World War II.
The program begins with a recording of the real Dora’s scratchy voice reciting a poem in French. The poem speaks of the sun and the moon, of light and darkness and how they are inextricably linked. This theme is the central analogy for the tale that is about to unfold.
Three large geometric shaped walls are introduced and whisked around by eight attentive dancers. The walls contribute architecture as they carve through and slice across the space. They serve to create morphing sets for the action: a house, a ghetto, a train car. In one moment, a wall repeated falls towards Dora’s “dad” who pushes it off as if attempting to push back an unrelenting, utterly domineering foe.
Dora’s tale is as ordinary as it is extraordinary. Hers is one of countless millions of lives that were swept up in the winds of WWII. Onstage, dancers reenact her interview and variously take on the roles of interviewer and interviewee. As different cast members take on her voice, we are reminded that her story is relatable and if circumstances allowed, it could easily be our own.
Live musicians, Nick Hallett and Emily Manzo, create immersive soundscapes mixing vocals, instruments and digital recordings in a seamless blend that perfectly enhances the action. When war is declared across Europe, drums pound, static crackles and propels the dancers into a tumult of leaps with bodies tossed off kilter in erratic pathways. Dora’s voice cuts through the chaos and as her story unfolds, she reveals a deep desire to help those in need. Repeatedly, she chooses to rush towards discomfort to aid the needy but even she can’t escape the numbing power of war.
Dora recounts numerous specifics: names, places, encounters, the details of which become a dizzying haze after a while. But Jones masterfully intersperses moments of levity, which save us from drowning in sorrow; a folk dance here, a slapstick skit mocking Hilter there. Finding the light can be literally a lifesaving skill in the midst of our darkest trials.
Bill T Jones’ talent for layering complex storytelling with compelling movement reaches new heights in this production. So many elements come together with ease from the ever-shifting narrative voice, to the exquisite dancing which ranges from visceral to virtuosic, to the manipulation of props and impromptu sound-mixing. “Analogy/Dora: Tramontane” does more than investigate the past; it mirrors our human capacity for reflection and growing awareness. And it reminds us that no matter how dark things get, there is always lightness to be found.