It's not often a Kansas University English major gets to dance with a nationally known company, especially in Lawrence.
So when Bill Resnick heard about auditions for "The Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin/The Promised Land," he jumped at the chance.
"I heard about it coming here, and I read about the piece in an article in the Village Voice," Resnick said Sunday night during a rehearsal break. "It's designed for people who don't necessarily have dance experience, and I strongly believed in the themes of the piece.''
The four-movement piece presented by the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane & Company dance group will be performed at 8 p.m. Tuesday in Hoch Auditorium, as part of the Kansas University New Directions Series.
The last movement of the piece, called "The Promised Land," incorporates 39 non-company dancers. At this performance, dancers from Lawrence will join more than a dozen people from Iowa City who performed the dance Saturday night on a tour stop.
ORIGINALLY, rehearsal directors from the Jones group had auditioned 59 Lawrence dancers last December for the 39 spots. But after casting the ensemble, several people dropped out because of rehearsal demands, said Jacqueline Davis, director of the New Directions, Chamber and Concert Series.
"Students found they had night classes and people had jobs," Davis said. "It required being in rehearsal from six to 10 weeknights for two weeks and all weekends.''
The dancers from Iowa drove to Lawrence after the Saturday performance to participate, said Jane Real, a rehearsal director for Jones' group.
"I was working down here with the Lawrence group, and I knew we needed more cast members for the final section," Real said. "So I had connections with the dancers in Iowa, and we suggested some of them come down to perform in Lawrence, and they jumped at the chance to do it again.''
AFTER JONES' company arrived Sunday night, the three groups the Jones company, and the Lawrence and the Iowa dancers worked together for the first time under the direction of Jones, the choreographer. The piece explores themes found in Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and incorporates text from Martin Luther King Jr. and LeRoi Jones' "The Dutchman.'' The dance piece ends with a moment of nudity.
In rehearsal, working beneath the brilliantly colored backdrop for the last movement, Jones and his group patiently took the non-company dancers through the complicated movements and staging they'll perform Tuesday. Despite all their preparation, the performers had a lot of rough spots to iron out. Clumps of people blocked others' movement, and dancers had to repeat several times the intricate, fast steps of the final few minutes of the performance.
Real said working with the Lawrence cast was challenging.
"I have a real mixed group," she said. "It has a lot of energy; it's a very physical group. I think they're doing things they didn't think they could do.''
FOR TODD Shea, a KU advertising major in the performance, the most difficult aspect was the rehearsal schedule.
"We worked four hours a night every day, and you still had all your classwork," he said. "It's hard work, but it's important material.''
As for the nudity at the end, Shea said he think it fits in with the dance's themes, which include the search for what humanity has in common.
"I felt it helps with underscoring what the piece is about, and I felt it was necessary," he said.