Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Water, directed by Tom Hurwitz and Rosalynde LeBlanc, is about famed choreographer Bill T. Jones and his most important work, D-Man in the Waters. The documentary tells two stories at once: the first is about the history of Jones’s dance company and the creation of the dance, and the second, set in the present day, follows Rosalynde LeBlanc and her students from a university as they embark on a journey to bring the piece back to life from casting to rehearsal. By establishing this parallel, the film examines the work’s production from different perspectives and further helps highlight how truly timeless the piece is.
Bill T. Jones founded the diverse troupe Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company with his lover and dance/business partner, Arnie Zane, in the 1980s. When the AIDS epidemic plagued their community and took Zane away, Jones had to find a way to move forward. He saw all the death and devastating effects of the disease around him, knowing that one day it will be his time, and thought he had to do something significant: “I’m going to live, and then I’m going to live l through my work.” Thus the idea of D-Man in the Waters started germinating in his head as a composition that will “radiate of life in the face of tragedy.”
Can You Bring It interweaves interviews with original Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company members with archival material to recount how the famous metaphoric ballet came to be. All dancers have vivid memories of the rehearsal “where it all happened” after Zane’s passing. Jones, disoriented, following his terrible loss, asked everyone to improvise how they would go into a body of water. So all the performers channeled their grief for those lost, their anger at the government for failing to act faster, and despair in the face of a pandemic without ends or a cure into movement. Slowly but organically, the collaboration took form, and the connection to the water, waves, and the struggle became more apparent.
“…members…recount how the famous metaphoric ballet came to be.”
Then, like in a Greek tragedy, the company’s rising star, eccentric dancer Demian Acquavella or D-Man, too received a grim AIDS diagnosis. As the disease rapidly overtook him, so did the choreography. One member recalls, “What started as a lighthearted ballet about the movement of water became a penetrating comment on surviving the deluge of a plague.” D-man stood on stage until he could not stand and had to be carried away, but D-Man in the Water became a hit for the public and a “healing cathartic ritual” for the performers on stage every night.
All along, Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Water never loses sight of who, or should we say what, is its main character: D-Man in the Water. We are treated to a few excerpts from various performances, past and present, while the university’s performance goes through rehearsals. However, for those craving to see the entire dance, it might not be enough. Likewise, this is about Bill T. Jones, and even though there are few great passages where we get to know him, especially during his visit to the school where he gives an impassioned speech, it might not be enough for viewers to get under his skin or comprehend how legendary the man is. A more thorough biography would surely be better suited to do justice to this brilliant artist.
Additionally, one might feel that Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Water might lack a certain artistic flair, and no matter how genuine it is, one might have hoped it would be as lyrical (and athletic!) as the contemporary ballet at its center. But ultimately, the filmmakers manage to sustain the public’s attention at all times while painting an informative, entertaining, and emotional picture of a choreographer, his friends and colleagues, and his most important work; and that might be enough for now.
"…informative, entertaining, and emotional..."