Although choreographer Bill T. Jones is known for large-scale spectacles, the dances his company will present in Olympia are on a small scale.
Jones’ “Between Us” is a shifting program, and Thursday’s dances are two duets and a solo.
“It is about intimacy — not just the intimacy between two people, but the intimacy between the dancer and the audience,” said Janet Wong, the company’s associate artistic director. “When one person is dancing, there is a relationship with the audience that you can’t have when there are 10 of you dancing.”
All three dances originally were performed by Jones himself, with the final one a duet developed by Jones and Zane in 1980, before the company was even founded. Jones and Zane were life partners until Zane’s death in 1988.
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The smaller show makes sense in terms of theater economics. Only four dancers perform, and the Harlem-based company isn’t out west for a full-scale tour. Instead, dancers will perform Tuesday in Arcata, Calif., and Thursday in Olympia, and then it’s back to New York City.
“We have tried for years to bring in Bill T. Jones,” said Kevin Boyer, the Washington Center’s marketing director. “He is typically a little too expensive for us with the number of seats we have, and he rarely goes to the West Coast.”
The dances of “Between Us” don’t necessarily reflect relationships in any traditional sense.
The solo piece, “Le Spectre de la Rose,” also has been performed as a duet. It juxtaposes music from a traditional Ballets Russes ballet with new movement that makes no attempt to tell a story. “It’s very beautiful, almost sculptural, with lots of stillness,” Wong said.
The second piece, “Duet,” is simply about how the body moves.
“It was really an investigation of the body,” Wong said. “What happens if you drop an arm? It triggers the shoulder to move this way, and then the movement goes down the spine, and the weight shifts.”
The piece has been set to different music through the years.
“Duet” requires the dancers to perform in unison — or as close as they can come to that when performing to music that lacks a consistent rhythm.
“It’s a very abstract relationship, where you have to be always together with your partner,” Wong said. “You have always to breathe and to move at the same pace in time. It takes a lot of practice to do that because we have such different impulses. Everybody does.”
The evening’s final dance, “Blauvelt Mountain: A Fiction,” was created by Jones and Zane and adapted to other dancers beginning in 2002. In this dance, the relationship between Jones and Zane provided a subtext to the dance’s exploration of contact, weight-sharing, time and space.
“It’s a very formal work but there is an intimacy built into it,” Wong said.
The piece defies conventional notions of partnering, she said. “They did a lot of contact improvisation, and a lot of the partnering came from the study of how a smaller person using leverage can lift a bigger person.” Zane was 5-feet-4 and Jones is 6-feet-1, and yet the dancer playing Zane — in Olympia, Jennifer Nugent — does much of the lifting.
The dance has been performed by two male dancers, two females and by male-female pairs, Wong said. In Olympia, it will be performed by another set of life partners, Nugent and her husband, Paul Matteson.
“They have been dancing together for a long time,” Wong said. “It’s amazing how they understand each other intuitively. That brings a new dimension to the work.”