Here's the clue: Choreographer (and Kennedy Center Honoree) Bill T. Jones created and premiered D-Man in the Waters before company member Demian Acquavella, who inspired the piece, died from AIDS in 1989. If it's a memorial to him, it's decidedly not funereal. In a March interview, company member Nicole Smith called the high-energy work "a beautiful celebration of life triumphing over loss—and survival, endurance-wise and emotionally ... It's about life throwing down the gauntlet and you rising to the occasion." Matching the optimism and exuberance of Mendelssohn's Octet in E-Flat, D-Man seems to riff in places on vintage Esther Williams films and the chaos down at the community pool. Dancers literally dive right in, leaping into each others' arms or zooming across the floor. Significantly, group members support one another in their aquatic exploits.
It's easy to read Spent Days Out Yonder as a more measured response to mortality and the passage of time. Three dancers, their backs turned to us, gently articulate balletic moves to Mozart as a procession enters and slowly walks, single file, across the darkened areas downstage, up the side and then upstage behind the dancers. It's easy to miss if you're not looking, but occasionally someone from the shadows moves into the center and takes up the dance as another dancer segues out into the shadowed procession. The metaphor seems clear: We all enter and exit at different times. The dance goes on.
Continuous Replay, a late addition to the program, is a restaging of Hand Dance, a 1978 Arnie Zane duet. This witty, minimalist accumulation of some 45 hand and arm gestures increases in complexity while foot percussion punctuates. As it does, other things accumulate: the intensity of the John Osborne composition "Spring," the crowd onstage and the clothes they're wearing—since this work begins with the performers in the nude. —Byron Woods