Choreographers often inscribe a dancer’s character into a part, but Bill T. Jones has suffused every step of D-Man in the Waters with the spirit of the eponymous D-. The 1989 portrait of the artist as a young and Aids-doomed man does not take after the choreographer’s other work. It is not self-reflexive, Dadaist or ironic. It does not confront or tease. It happily forgets about us – and itself. D-Man in the Waters radiates the clarity of love.
High-spirited yet with an undercurrent of trouble, the 35-minute piece to Mendlessohn’s early octet concludes the first of two distinct programmes of dances to classical string music, delivered live by the sumptuous Orion Quartet. On opening night, Spent Days Out Yonder ended before its take on Mozart could register, and the addition to Continuous Replay of spliced and diced Beethoven proved one play too many. Only D-Man’s music and movement were deeply mutually attuned.
Jones translates Mendelssohn’s youthful extremes – a rocking phrase finished off with an elaborate flourish, for example – as wide-eyed inventiveness: variations on a theme not only popping up all over the stage but announcing their make-believe status. The dancers do not dive into water, they do the steps that mean “dive into water” when the only resource is land. Unlike Paul Taylor’s playful and grand Esplanade, the steps are not found from daily life but made from the imagination, not God-given but willed. The dancers “doing the crawl” or tip-toeing like drag queens on a catwalk are not Everyman but the inimitable D-Man – Demian Acquavella in full, dead at age 32 a year after the dance debuted.
Jones presents him as a joker, a diva, a sensualist, a fighter, a pimp walker, a brother, a fairy and a free spirit. D-Man saw his life slipping away: there are passages in which the dancers sink on to their backs on the floor or open their arms to an emptiness a person used to fill. The costumes in camouflage signal deadly struggle. But D-Man remained an innocent.
Innocence is a tricky gambit – for an artist or anyone else – and Jones usually steers clear. But, as D-Man in the Waters reveals, to maintain that state after so much pain is a special form of grace.
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