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Bill T., For the Long Term
This article by Nicole Plett was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on
March 10, 1999. All rights reserved.
We Set Out Early… Visibility Was Poor" —
the words have the ring of a journal entry, perhaps some intrepid,
19th-century traveler’s notes. But the phrase is, instead, the title
of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance company’s latest, full-evening
work, which arrives at McCarter Theater on Thursday, March 11, at
8 p.m. The new work, set to the music of three 20th century composers,
has been compared to a journey through the century itself — or
perhaps through the creative terrain of choreographer Bill T. Jones’
enormously productive career.
Composed of three parts with no intermissions, the 70-minute dance
work is one that, according to critic Lewis Segal of the Los Angeles
Times, "luxuriates in the freedom of pure movement." The company
boasts 10 dancers, in array of different colors, shapes, and sizes,
who are widely recognized as some of the best modern dancers onstage
Each of the dance’s three sections is set to modern music of vastly
different mood and character. It begins with music from Igor Stravinsky’s
1917 dance-drama, "A Soldier’s Tale," followed by three pieces
by John Cage, "Empty Words," "Sonata for Prepared Piano,"
and "Music for Marcel Duchamp." Its final section is set to
a lush symphony for strings titled "Stimen," by the contemporary
Latvian composer Peteris Vasks. Visual design is by Jones’ present
companion and production director Bjorn Amelan. First performed at
the Kennedy Center in 1997, the work had its New York premiere last
Choreographer Bill T. Jones is not only an eloquent mover and a brilliant
choreographic artist, but he has been a brave and persuasive spokesperson
for a succession of "hot-button" issues in recent years. Homosexuality,
racism — even beauty — are among the controversial subjects
he has addressed in his sensuous, evocative dances that speak, and
sometimes sing, to audiences. For as Clive Barnes writes in the New
York Post, "the fact that Jones gives the most articulate interviews
in dance since Martha Graham has had many people so mesmerized by
what he had to say in print they forgot how brilliantly he was saying
it in dance."
"Still/Here" was Jones’ evening-long, multi-media dance work
that provoked a sensation through the nation’s cultural corridors
following its 1994 premiere and became a crucible for the culture
clash. "Still/Here" was created out of a series of 14 "Survival
Workshops" in 11 cities, led by Jones, and recorded by media artist
Gretchen Bender and a camera crew. Despite its elaborate supporting
apparatus, hope and endurance are the work’s overarching themes, expressed
in two hours of almost non-stop motion. The dignity and beauty of
the body is paramount, with each dancer portrayed as a distinct individual.
With music by Kenneth Frazelle and Vernon Reid, "Still/Here"
was presented at McCarter Theater in May, 1996.
Jones’ eminent reputation notwithstanding, "We Set
Out Early… Visibility Was Poor" has provoked plaudits from critics
from coast to coast. "It’s not as funky as things I made in the
past," Jones told Elizabeth Zimmer of the Village Voice. "It
doesn’t feel as extemporaneous, it’s more considered, built for the
long term." And audiences seem to agree.
Jones’ personal background would seem to make him an unlikely candidate
for such prominence. Born in 1952, he is the tenth of 12 children
of a migrant worker’s family. When Jones was seven, the family settled
permanently in upstate New York. Jones attended high school there
and was the second child in the family to go on to the State University
of New York. Since his career took off, both Jones’ mother, Estella
Jones, and his sister, performance artist Rhodessa Jones, have collaborated
on his stage work.
Today the company retains the name of Arnie Zane, Jones’ life and
dance partner who died of AIDS-related illness in 1988. Jones met
the short, Jewish Arnie Zane, a photographer at the time, in the dance-booming
1960s, during Jones’ freshman year at SUNY Binghamton. They began
to choreograph and perform together in 1973, and formed their own
company in 1975. The pair collaborated for over 13 years, producing
such major works as "Secret Pastures" (with Keith Haring)
and "Fever Swamp."
Since Zane’s death, Jones has remained productive. His succession
of major, evening-length works include "Last Supper at Uncle Tom’s
Cabin/The Promised Land," "Last Night on Earth," and "Still/Here."
Jones has published an autobiography he describes as "part memoir,
part meditation, and part performance," titled "Last Night
on Earth." He is also the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation
609-683-8000. $31 & $34. Thursday, March 11, 8 p.m.
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