What happens to a work of art when time displaces it from its original context, and from the impetus that inspired it? That’s a question that can elicit dry theories. But in “Can You Bring It?: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Waters,” a new documentary directed by Tom Hurwitz and Rosalynde LeBlanc Loo, the answer is passionate and moving.
Jones is the co-founder of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, a modern dance troupe. It grew out of the performing duo that Jones formed with his partner Zane, who wasn’t a dancer when they met in the early 1970s.
Zane died of AIDS-related lymphoma in 1988. The movie gives a moving précis of their work-life collaboration before addressing the decisions Jones made in the aftermath of Zane’s death. One of those decisions took the form of the piece “D-Man in the Waters.”
The dance was inspired by a series of group improvisations. It was a reflection of the troupe’s experiences, its struggles and its losses. As a piece of choreography, it’s since been performed by dozens of collegiate and professional companies. “Can you bring it?” is what Jones asks a group of dancers at Loyola Marymount College in 2016 as they prepare the piece under the direction of Loo, a former Jones/Zane company member.
These students have little knowledge of AIDS, so Jones and Loo ask them to find points of struggle in their lives, as part of a student community and otherwise. The intercutting between vintage footage of the Jones/Zane company and the student production, as well as footage from another contemporary production of the piece — shot with an onstage intimacy that recalls the in-the-ring segments of Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull” — make for an unusually lively documentary experience.
Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Waters
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes. In theaters.
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