My review of Bill T. Jones’ “Chapel/Chapter” for the Chronicle:

” “I have to get out of here,” a man said as he fled Bill T. Jones’ “Chapel/Chapter” at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on Thursday. Soon, another person slipped out, then another. “It’s too disturbing,” a woman whispered to her friend.

There are things we don’t want to see, but ought to. The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company’s YBCA engagement, running through Sunday, is one of them. An icon of American dance since the 1980s, Jones is no stranger to walkouts, but Thursday’s were different.

There is no political provocation in “Chapel/Chapter,” no tackling the alarmist issue of the day, as Jones has done with everything from AIDS to the Iraq war. “Chapel/Chapter” is about murder, about death both natural and unnatural, or whether the distinction even exists, about the evil and the need for redemption within us. It is not about the prison system or justice – its concerns are dark ones from the deepest corners of the soul.

Proximity is part of its horror. Created for a small Harlem performance space last December, “Chapel/Chapter” is staged in the YBCA’s Forum. Blood red curtains frame a square filled with a shape like a cathedral window. (The set design is by Bjorn G. Amelan.) Pews sit on one end, and the audience on all sides.

As it begins to tour nationally, “Chapel/Chapter” is also being adapted for proscenium stages, but up close is the way to see it, though this will not be pleasant. It brings you face-to-face with the murder of a family: mother, father, children; tied, strangled, asphyxiated. This is re-enacted by the dancers (and nimble Erick Montes as the family dog) in two ways. First, brutally, with the murderer describing his actions to an interrogator in a cool, collected tone. Later the murder is replayed more like a series of biblical tableaux, with Alicia Hall Moran singing that same gruesome account in a piercing clear chant, like a High Catholic mass.”

Later in the review, I could not help but mention that “Chapel/Chapter” struck me particularly hard:

“Violent crime and incarceration are things Jones must know about intimately through his sister Rhodessa, who leads the Medea Project, which stages theater by imprisoned women. In full critical disclosure, murder is something I also know intimately, having woken up one night at age 10 to find my father slain in an unsolved crime nearly as grisly as those in “Chapel/Chapter.” Whoever the murderer is, I would wish transcendence and redemption for that person as much as any other.

“Chapel/Chapter” made me think on this, but in a new way, because of its refusal to offer anything remotely redeeming or humanizing about the murderers. It left me with the awful feeling of having become the murderer, and it left me feeling the holy had become dark rather than the dark holy. It left me with questions only a second viewing could help answer, and that is certainly one sign of art worth wrangling with, whether or not you finally embrace the answers you find.”

Click here for the full review.

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