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Judging a documentary goes beyond merely assessing the strength of its subject: Is cinema essential to telling the story, or would another medium accomplish the same effect? For “Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones & D-Man in the Waters,” co-directed by Rosalynde LeBlanc and cinematographer Tom Hurwitz, the kinetic nature of film captures the physicality of dance far better than only words or even photography ever could.
“Can You Bring It” begins with choreographer-director Bill T. Jones’ acceptance speech at the 1989 Bessie Awards for his New York ballet “D-Man in the Waters.” Half poem and half rallying cry, his words are fitting for the work, created in response to the death of his dance and life partner, Arnie Zane, from AIDS.
Decades later and a continent away, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane company dancer LeBlanc stages a new performance at Loyola Marymount University. These students weren’t even alive at the height of the AIDS crisis, raising the question: Can you translate the emotions of a specific moment into a new era and still retain its power and relevancy? Elegant edits unite archival photos and videos, contemporary interviews and dance footage, establishing the pure athleticism of the dance, the historical significance of the work and its enduring cultural impact.
LeBlanc’s knowledge of dancing and her personal history with performing “D-Man in the Waters” are clear assets here. With grace and raw emotion, “Can You Bring It” never forgets that the ballet uses bodies at their peaks to express their breaking points. Death and grief may exist in the soul of “D-Man in the Waters” but “Can You Bring It” is full of vitality and energy, a testament to the power of art in the face of tragedy.