The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company will perform its newest work, “What Problem?” at 8 p.m. Feb. 22 at the IU Auditorium, which co-commissioned the work with George Mason University.
The international, Harlem-based dance company features 10 main company dancers along with co-founder Bill T. Jones. The group has created social commentary through dance and has performed in over 40 countries since its inception in 1982.
Performer Shane Larson joined the company in 2015 after graduating from New York University with a BFA in dance. Larson said he attended mock rehearsals before joining the company and at a certain point looked around, confused, realizing he was one of the few still being considered.
“By the last two days there wasn’t really anyone left, but she never told me that I got the job,” Larson said.
Larson was told later that day he had secured a spot with the company. Around 400 people apply for a position in the company when one member leaves, Larson said.
Before joining the company, Larson worked five jobs at once to support himself. He said many of his peers still work jobs in addition to their roles with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company. Larson himself works other jobs alongside his dance career.
“Even though this is one of the premier dance companies in the world we’re still fighting for financial equality,” Larson said. “You sacrifice that for freedom of expression."
“What Problem?” will tour at three locations in February. The show focuses on the dynamic between division and isolation, as well as the struggles of marginalized communities.
“What does it mean to be a problem?” Larson said. “Are you a problem? It’s not even that you have to answer it, but having that dialogue with yourself will elicit a lot of deeper understanding about self-identity.”
The piece, choreographed by Jones and the company, will open with a movement inspired by the words of Martin Luther King Jr. and also feature Jones on stage with the company.Larson described the importance of the figure-eight pattern that reappears throughout the piece.
“Bill grew up during the civil rights movement so I think that is influencing how his lens is interpreting world events happening today,” Larson said. “I think he’s re-contextualizing a lot of those experiences from growing up into the struggles we’re having today.”
During the tour, the company works to incorporate local performers in the third section of each of their performances, Larson said. Some of the performers for the Bloomington production include IU students. Community members take part in workshops before the performance.
Larson described sharing basic dance moves and working with the community members as a therapeutic experience for both community members and himself in preparation for the performance.
"We're teaching them basic improvisational skills," Larson said. "There's a lot sensitivity and group-awareness that we're building with the activities that we're doing."
Tickets can be purchased at IU Auditorium’s website and the auditorium box office and start at $15 for students and $23 for general admission.