Dancer I-Ling Liu stood with her back pressed to a wall, slowly and deliberately moving her stiffly pointed index finger from above toward the outstretched palm of her other hand like a dagger. Steps away on the stage of The University of Akron’s E.J. Thomas Hall, fellow dancer Jenna Riegel achingly voiced the words of Dora Amelan, recounting the death of her 20-year-old sister from an infection caused by a botched abortion during World War II. Lu embodied the cold anguish felt in Amelan’s words, her dark eyes a window into a woman who had seen untold horrors, perhaps none as haunting as the memory of this moment.
The heartbreaking scene was one of many played out in Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company’s Analogy/Dora: Tramontane (2015), performed by the company Oct. 9 in Akron, Ohio. The show’s national tour visits the August Wilson Center Oct. 20 and 21 courtesy of Pittsburgh Dance Council.
The show is based on a riveting oral history that artistic director/choreographer Bill T. Jones conducted with his now 96-year-old French-Jewish mother-in-law in 2002. In Amelan’s own words and those of Jones, the 90-minute intermissionless dance-theater work tells of her harrowing experiences escaping the Nazis and serving as a nurse/social worker in occupied France.
Set to a masterfully crafted original score sung and performed live by its composer, Nick Hallett, and pianist Emily Manzo, the piece, in 25 chapters, fully embraced the “theater” in dance theater. The combination of the dancers skillfully voicing dialogue (often while dancing), Hallett’s powerful score and Jones’ abstract yet illustrative choreography made for a deeply moving experience that drilled into the core of our humanity, producing swells of disparate emotions and entrancing us with marvelous storytelling.
It’s sure to be one of this dance season’s most memorable productions. Perhaps Analogy’s only shortcoming is that the music and dialogue sometimes overshadowed the dancing in dramatic impact. When all the elements did come together — such as in a scene when Amelan recalled a female co-worker saying goodbye to her husband who was being sent to a concentration camp, and a happier one depicting a visit from her entertainer cousin Marcel Marceau — it was pure theatrical magic.