• Talli Jackson, Jenna Riegel, Antonio Brown, Rena Butler, and Shayla-Vie Jenkins (photo by Paul B. Goode)

Analogy/Dora: Tramontane (2015)

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company

West Coast Premiere – March 13, 2016
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
San Francisco

Analogy/Dora: Tramontane is the first installment of a trilogy, with the other two segments to premiere later this year. It is based on the oral history of a ninety-five-year old French-Jewish woman (Dora) who is both a French Legion of Honor laureate–for humanitarian work during World War II, and Bill T. Jones’ mother-in-law. His interview with Dora is the libretto for this unsung, movement based, story-telling performance. The piece spreads over approximately a five-year period, between the German invasion of Poland to their surrender on Victory Day in 1945. The operatic sequence of catastrophic events that shaped the young Dora’s life is acted out through a series of sketches made by the dancers. While moving, they deliver verbatim episodes of the interview taking turns as interviewer and interviewee. A handheld microphone is passed like a baton from dancer to dancer, choreographed as if it were another member of the company.

At first, the choreography appears hectic and fragmented, random tableaus and group snippets–like an illustrator rendering the key points of a brainstorming conversation, rapidly drawing the highlights of that discussion all over a chalkboard. As part of this initial mapping of Dora’s tale, dancers interact with what appears to be standard 4×8 drywall sheets, red on one side, grey on the other. These sheets look like giant varsity letters that when combined almost create a word or a building, appearing at one point as Dora’s family hotel that was confiscated by the Germans. Or, when reconfigured to imply the internment camps where Dora worked after successfully crossing the boarder into France. The flats transform into a doorway, a barrier, a window, or a dolmen that frames dancers or oppress them, crushing their bodies down to the floor. As the 30 episodes of this 90-minute performance unfold, the choreography evolves into a mellower lyricism, as a chorus of dancers becomes silhouetted background movement. To this chorus in the shadows, I-Ling Liu performs a poignant vignette of Dora’s sister’s death as Jenna Riegel voices the painful details of her passing.

Fortunately, for both Dora’s journey and for the sake of levity, there are a few light-hearted vignettes about Dora’s cousin’s survival—a mime (Carlo Antonio Villanueva) that happened to be the silent comedian, Marcel Marceau. The Chaplinesque dancing of Villanueva as the cousin provides a much-needed comic relief to a tediously escalating story that has beautiful portrayals but lacks a sustaining emotional quality that would ultimately connect the viewers to the hero.This isn’t for a lack of talent among the stellar international company, who are as accomplished in the deliverance of the spoken word as they are in movement. They have learned well from Jones, whose deep velvet voice and soulful pausing make whatever he is saying spellbinding.

Analogy/Dora: Tramontane is greatly augmented by an engaging score and live performances by the multi-talented, Nick Hallett (composer and vocalist); Emily Manzo (pianist), and Sam Crawford’s sound design which overlays tinny loudspeaker Nazi propaganda with Dora’s real voice speaking in both French and English. The score goes from piano lullaby to French accordion cabaret style (Parlez-moi d’amour), to classical (Schubert – Charles Trenet) often sounding like a full orchestra. Hallett’s purity of voice delights in several languages from moody to joyous and seems to brighten up the orchestra pit just from his presence. Liz Prince’s casual linens costumes in muted fall tones give the otherwise stark-white set accents and warmth—warmth that is needed for this incessant performance.

David E. Moreno

David E. Moreno E-RYT500, YACEP, SFT, is an internationally recognized yoga instructor who came to yoga after dancing professionally in a variety of modern dance companies and light opera productions. He also trained in experimental dance including the early phases of Steve Paxton's contact improv, the environmental happenings of Anna Halprin, and the deep inner dance of Continuum with Emilie Conrad. His commentaries on yoga have been featured in an assortment of yoga journals and magazines, and he is the producer of yoga DVDs and eBooks. www.moryoga.com