How did she do this? One of the dancers asks this for us, holding a microphone up for the performer who has taken on the role of Dora. “Lightness of spirit,” she replies. She’s stretched out on her side like a sunbathing cat as she’s hoisted overhead by other cast members. “That’s how I could endure all that.”
One of the charms of this piece, which is just over an hour, is the plain-spoken dialogue. That’s what Jones started with: transcripts of recorded conversations with his mother-in-law, which he intended as a gift to his husband, Bjorn Amelan. (Amelan also is Jones’s longtime artistic collaborator, who created the elegantly simple movable panels and other elements of the decor.) It turned out that Jones had a remarkable account on his hands, of an ordinary-extraordinary person navigating through the horrors of history with a straightforward, openhearted approach. In “Analogy/Dora,” the dancers take turns picking up the mic and taking on the characters of Dora and Jones, one asking the questions, the other answering, and the story moves back and forth in time, like a conversation over dinner.
This is the first of the three sections in “Analogy Trilogy,” which Jones created with his associate artistic director, Janet Wong, in collaboration with the dancers. (The various sections premiered between 2015 and 2017.) The two other parts follow at the Kennedy Center on the next two nights. The second part is “Analogy/Lance: Pretty a.k.a. the Escape Artist,” which focuses on Jones’s nephew Lance Briggs, a former dancer who spun off course into a life of drugs and prostitution, yet still tried to make something of himself as an artist.
The third, “Analogy/Ambros: The Emigrant,” is inspired by a character in German author W.G. Sebald’s book “The Emigrants” — a man who ran in glamorous circles in the years before World War I, then ended up in a mental institution in Upstate New York, willingly undergoing electroshock “therapy” as a way to end his life.
What these brief, multilayered dramas all have in common are first-person accounts told to a curious interviewer, a series of questions and answers that examine a life of survival.
Jones is known for taking on bold content — such social malignancies as homophobia, racism and fraught histories of all sorts. But he’s just as fearless in his approaches to form. It has been a while since we’ve seen a pure-dance work from him, and he recently edited the word “dance” out of his troupe’s name — it’s simply a company, no longer genre-specific. This opens up more territory for him, as he demonstrates in “Dora.”
The story is not always easy to follow, but what emerges is a deeply felt experience and an often stunningly, poetically beautiful one. At the end of “Dora,” there’s a joyous dance party in fading light. Shadows loomed behind the dancers, dwarfing them, but they kept bounding, kicking, throwing their hands in the air and cheering, and the last sound we heard, even after darkness had engulfed the stage, was Dora’s voice, singing about the sun, moon and stars.
Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company performs “Analogy/Ambros: The Emigrant” on Saturday at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. $29-$79. 202-467-4600. kennedy-center.org.