Some members of the audience for "The Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin/The Promised Land" said they were overwhelmed by the dance performance Tuesday night in Kansas University's Hoch Auditorium.
"My first reaction was `Wow!'" said Melinda Weir, a KU senior from Iowa City, Iowa. "It was almost a religious experience. . . . I (had) had a part in it, but I couldn't go to rehearsals because of my job. I think I should have just quit my job."
Several people approached after the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane & Co. production declined to be interviewed, explaining that they couldn't put their feelings into words.
David Hull, a Lawrence resident, gave it a try, although he said it would be hard to distill the messages of the work into a few words.
"My overall impression was very positive," Hull said after the performance. "It was amazing in a very gentle, positive way."
Hull said one way he knew Jones' work was a success was that it was "hard to describe in terms of itself."
THE PERFORMANCE, broken into two acts, played off Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and touched on several issues, including racism, sexism and homophobia. The work included nudity in the final movement, which Hull said illustrated the "commonality" of mankind.
Markay LaGue, a Tonganoxie resident, said she hoped everyone would leave "The Promised Land," the production's final movement, thinking about its messages.
"The last scene was just so moving and beautiful," LaGue said. "There were parts that lost me, but somehow, I don't think that's important. I came away with a meaning for me. I would hope there would be a message for everyone."
LaGue said the last scene, which featured all of the dancers nude, illustrated how "we're much more alike than we are different."
JONES, WHO visited briefly with the audience after the three-hour performance, said everyone was part of some minority group. He said he wanted to convey that sentiment in his work.
Jones said he had been called an "Uncle Tom," but he explained that he insists on an integrated world. He said there'd been a "civil war" inside his heart as he struggled to understand life and its consequences.
His mother offered a prayer during the production, and Jones said he constantly struggles with faith. But he said he was learning to respect his mother's faith.
"I think she has mysteries that I'm just beginning to understand at (the age of) 38," Jones said.
DURING ONE part of the work, Jones questions a Kansas City minister, the Rev. Sharon Francine Kelly, about Christianity, suffering and sexuality. In response to Jones' questions, Kelly concedes that Christianity does have its dark sides.
After the performance, Jones explained that he was not trying to put Kelly on the spot but that he was only trying to learn through questioning. He urged his audience to do the same.
"Don't buy everything that you're taught," Jones said.
Although the performance was not sold out, Charla Jenkins, director of public relations for performing arts at KU, estimated that 2,000 people attended.