Choreographer Bill T. Jones is no stranger to responding to critical historical events through dance. In the 1980s and 1990s he created seminal works that were both deeply personal and voiced the tremendous losses and pain of the AIDS epidemic.
Now, he takes on living through the COVID-19 pandemic and the social upheaval that surrounded it in "Afterwardsness," being staged through Sunday at the University of Minnesota's Northrop auditorium.
The audience, limited to about 150 people, is seated on the Northrop stage, which has been painted to look like a parking lot. The dancers, moving in front of, behind and around the audience, flow from one idiosyncratic phrase to the next, rolling one minute, leaping the next, executing complicated patterns of gestures.
Sometimes they appear to be exercising, or living through the painful experience of isolation. At times they evoke the militarization of police through movements that recall martial arts. The narrative feels extremely familiar in part because the events are so recognizable.
Throughout the work, a voice calls out dates chronologically, marking different moments in the pandemic — some colored by current events, and others that will hit differently for viewers as they remember particular dates.
One key date — May 25, 2020, the day George Floyd was murdered — is called out during a stark violin solo composed by music director Pauline Kim Harris, who performs it under a spotlight at center stage. She begins "Homage" with long, sustained bow strokes that become more dissonant as the dates creep toward that fatal day, then the music shifts into scratchy double stops, whistling in a painful denouement.
A co-presentation by Northrop, the Walker Art Center and New York Live Arts, "Afterwardsness" was choreographed by Jones in collaboration with the company's associate artistic director, Janet Wong, and the dancers. Part of the movement utilizes phrases created for past works, set on current company members as they developed the piece.
It might take years before we are able to fully process the collective trauma of the past 20 months as a society. In the Twin Cities we have already seen a number of local dance choreographers — Susana di Palma, José A. Luis, Tamara Ober and Vie Boheme among them — tackle the issues that have emerged to create often reflective, intimate dance works. As one of today's preeminent choreographers, Jones makes his own record with nuanced clarity.
When: 7:30 p.m. Fri. & Sat., 2 p.m. Sat. & Sun.
Where: Northrop, 84 SE. Church St., Mpls.
Tickets: $60, 612-375-7600, northrop.umn.edu.
Protocol: Masks required.