Lincoln’s History, Melded With a Choreographer’s

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Past, present, future. History, memory, experience. The recasting of history through memory and experience. All of these slippery subjects are the matter of Bill T. Jones’s “Serenade/The Proposition,” an hourlong work that reaffirms this artist’s gift for creating powerful theater but reveals little of sustained choreographic interest.

Perhaps that’s because the dance never quite feels like the point of the piece, which opened at the Joyce on Tuesday night. “Serenade,” a Joyce commission that was created last year, is one of three works Mr. Jones has made recently to honor the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth.

Unlike “Fondly Do We Hope ... Fervently Do We Pray,” created for the Ravinia Festival in Illinois, “Serenade” makes little direct mention of its subject. But it is framed and shaped by a series of spoken texts, mostly drawn from writings and speeches by Lincoln. These are interspersed and layered with recorded voices offering their own notions about history and identity, with autobiographical fragments from Mr. Jones, with song, and with a low-key, mostly classical score. The music is performed live by Jerome Begin, Lisa Komara and Christopher Antonio William Lancaster, who are also the composers of much of the material.

It is the text, delivered with grave beauty by the actor Jamyl Dobson from a podium on one side of the stage, which drives “Serenade.” Even though Mr. Jones does not physically appear in the piece, his oratorical presence — part naked self-revelation, part intellectual reflection, part bombast — is channeled through Mr. Dobson, a tall, handsome man impeccably dressed in suit, tie and pocket handkerchief...

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