Bill T. Jones, the much-decorated director of Chelsea’s newly minted New York Live Arts, first streaked across the city’s dance firmament nearly 35 years ago. He has since won every award the country confers on its artists, including two Tonys.
His troupe, now the resident company at NYLA, this week shows five early works that position him and his late partner Arnie Zane (who died of AIDS in 1988) as significant figures in dance history. “Body Against Body,” a collection of dances made between 1977 and 1982, casts younger company members in roles originally performed by Jones and Zane, revealing that the pieces, like “Monkey Run Road,” were much more than just vehicles to display the artists’ strong personalities and contrasting physical traits.
In “Monkey Run Road,” tall Talli Jackson and more compact Erick Montes check each other out as they scribble tight phrases in the air or pose quietly. The two men test each other, grappling like wrestlers, their actions exquisitely calibrated against Helen Thorington’s score.
The lighter group work “Continuous Replay” supplements the nine-member troupe with guest stars from across the modern-dance world. Beginning naked, they add layers of clothing as they perform minimalist, mechanistic gestures in corridors of light, to a collage score by John Oswald. The first program concludes with Jennifer Nugent and Paul Matteson’s stunning rendition of “Valley Cottage,” another intense duet to Thorington’s music.
Thirty years on, the dances retain their brilliance and intensity. Catch them if you can.