By Nikko Solis
A whirlwind of dancing, passion, movement, grief, anger, sadness, and hope characterizes the documentary, Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Waters (2021). The film is a moving illustration of humans in art form battling the AIDS pandemic. As AIDS took the life of one of their very own, a wonderful legacy was created and continues to wow so many individuals.
The filmmakers and co-directors of this film are the cinematographer Tom Hurwitz and Rosalynde Le Blanc, who became a dancer after watching the original dance and became a student at Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zayne Company. Rosalynde performed the dance all over the world and is continuing Bill T. Jones’ legacy by teaching the dance to her students at Loyola Marymount University.
This 90-minute lyrical athletic feature documentary was created this year, made within three days at the Hamburg State Opera. I was able to purchase and download the program on YouTube. Although the experience could never match up to watching it in person at the Hamburg State Opera, I did find the screening to be quite captivating to watch–even if I was watching it alone with no popcorn in my dorm. I would imagine watching in person draws you in more where you are more connected to dancers, whereas watching it virtually is just more of an entertainment screening.
The documentary was filmed at Loyola Marymont University, where dance students were taught in one of the school dance studios. It is raw, real, and emotional. We Rosalynde digging deep with her students. She is questioning them: What is your why? Why are we doing this? She wants them to showcase the true emotional depth and really see deeply with their eyes and feel the emotion in their hearts.
The original dance had been created at a very dark time. There was a love story behind the scenes long ago between the founders of Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zayne. Between the two, they created this wonderful life filled with passion, love, and dancing. They couldn’t be any more different from one another. They were the power couple that created this amazing dance company and turned it into a community filled with diversity and had a mission. It was home for all the dancers.
The most intense scene of the doc is when AIDS overcomes Arnie and he’s in his hospital bed on his last breath. It is a crushing and heartbreaking scene. He dies with Bill by his side, along with his fellow dance teammates.
In 1988 when Arnie died, the AIDS pandemic was killing the gay community and hurting so many close friends. It left everyone wondering who was next. The most exhilarating scene was when Bill T. Jones decides to continue dancing and creates this beautiful masterpiece that becomes a long-lived legacy. It’s full of questions, unknowns, who’s next, anger, tragedy, life, and celebration. This dance is a timeless piece that will continue to pull people in and have them wanting more.
The documentary’s cinematography and soundtrack hit all the points. For example, after Bill and Arnie’s kiss, AIDS strikes the city. The music being played while the clip showed people hugging, holding each other with fear in their eyes, and sadness on their faces showed great emotion in the scene. The music makes us feel what they are going through. There are other parts of the film when the music matches every dance move and brings the dances and movements to life. The music gives us feelings of happiness at certain times but then quickly changes to an emotional or lonely feeling.
This film signifies a few different things to me. Because of the AIDS pandemic, people were dying left and right. The dance academy lost two of their own, so it really hit home for them. There’s a quote from the film in which someone says, “Half of my phonebook died.” This really opened my eyes to what was happening and the feeling of loss and sadness took over me. I feel like the dance piece was a healing time for them. It was a time for them to let out their hurt and anger and show it in a way that they also love: in a true dance form.
From the perspective of the students that Rosalynde teaches, the film signifies a learning experience and a history lesson. When the students are asked about the AIDS pandemic, they stay quiet and seem uncertain with no knowledge of the pandemic and how bad it really was.
The film is really about how a group of people overcome the challenges brought by the AIDS pandemic by learning how to move on through the art form of lyrical dancing. The dance academy became a place where everyone gathered to grieve so they danced it out with each other. The creators of the company were gay and loved each other. They were all connected with what was going on in the world. Together, we see them overcome the challenges ahead. They had to overcome adversity in the ways of what it was like to be a gay man during this AIDS outbreak. They were scared not knowing if it was going to happen to them next. It was a time when people didn’t want to touch the bodies of someone who died from AIDS out of fear that they would get the disease. They were looked at as outsiders. So, they created this community of life, family, togetherness, understanding, and hope.
My reaction to watching this film originally was, oh! This is about dancing! I was wrong because it was so much more than that. Once I learned that it surrounded the AIDS pandemic and the challenges that came along with it my reaction grew. I also was not aware that there was an AIDS PANDEMIC or just how bad it really was, and it make me reflect on connections between AIDS and the COVID-19 pandemic we’re currently in.
“‘The COVID-19 crisis continues to rage, disrupting HIV prevention and treatment services, schooling, violence-prevention programs, and more,’ UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said in a statement. ‘We cannot be forced to choose between ending the AIDS pandemic today and preparing for the pandemics of tomorrow. The only successful approach will achieve both. As of now, we are not on track to achieve either'” (Treisman).
Viewing two gay men having so much love and creating a safe space and community was enlightening. I had a warm feeling inside. I would compare this feeling to finding one’s circle. Find that place where you feel comfortable and safe with people you trust. That’s hard to find and, when you have it, what an amazing feeling it is. Even when we go through hard times and circumstances, we can come back to this space to reset.
Bill and Arney did not want to be known as the queer ghetto. They created a home and a community where there was no judgment. The work they did was play for them. They created a space where people could come and release their fears, emotions, feelings, doubts, be open, and create hope in the form of dance. Let’s all try to connect through the movement of art.
Treisman, Rachel. “What the AIDS crisis can teach us about the COVID pandemic response.” 2021. https://www.gpb.org/news/2021/12/01/what-the-aids-crisis-can-teach-us-about-the-covid-pandemic-response
Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Waters. Directed by Tom Hurwitz and Rosalynde Le Blanc. Kino Lorber, 2021.
2 thoughts on “‘Can You Bring It?’ Review”
Very impressed with the quality of work put into the close analysis detail through your paper. I found your paper to be rather insightful both on the film along with the virtual cinema platform. You brought in plenty of secondary sources to beef up the paper along with compelling images that help tell the story. Great work and solid wrap to the semester.
Wow, Nikko! You really “brought it” in this review! First of all, your writing is like a word painting. You convey the tragedy of the AIDS pandemic and contextualize it from so many essential angles. You addressed the relationship between Bill and Arnie, and how AIDS prematurely claimed Arnie while he had so much of his life left to live. You describe how this affected the dance company, and how their legacy is carried forward by Hurwitz and Le Blanc. You give us context for what it was like in the 80s, and the important reminder (in the form of Triesman’s quotation) that AIDS remains deadly, and that the COVID-19 pandemic is compromising the quality and access to care that many people with AIDS require.
Your description of the documentary made me feel like I was hearing it and seeing it in my imagination. I bet the film itself has a “rhythm” to it, in terms of editing and technical construction. I don’t imagine this as a dry documentary. I imagine it as an artistic, raw, and powerful work of art, bursting with both poignancy and celebration.
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