Keeping Up with Bill T. Jones, a Year of Constant Activity Highlighted by the World Premiere of “Still/ Here”
1994 could be called the year of Bill T. Jones.
Not only was Jones appointed resident choreographer of France’s Lyon Opera Ballet, for whom he created a major new ballet in March, he also directed “Dream on Monkey Mountain” for Minneapolis’s Guthrie Theater, criss-crossed the U.S. and the Atlantic four times with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, created four brand new ballets, and had just enough time to open his mail to discover that he had been awarded a MacArthur Foundation fellowship. And that’s just the first six months.
In September Jones will take the world stage with his newest and most daring work, “Still /Here,” a spectacular full-evening dance that opens the 1994 International Biennale de la Danse in Lyon, September 14-17.
Using the experiences of survivors of life-threatening diseases as the basis for this powerful and innovative exploration of life, death, and disease, “Still/ Here” is a multi-national commission that will be seen on both sides of the Atlantic over the next two years. It will have its American premiere at Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City on September 30. The dance will first be seen in New York at the Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, November 30 and December 1,2,3. (See attached schedule for specific dates and locations)
Several years in the making, “Still/ Here” marks Jones’s largest and most ambitious artistic undertaking to date, an epic that expresses the emotional and spiritual challenge of vanquishing the fear of death and celebrating the fact of life, an integral issue in Jones’ own life. A two part, full evening work, “Still/Here” is set within a multimedia environment designed by media artist Gretchen Bender and performed to original music by Kenneth Frazelle (‘Still’ section) sung by the folk singer Odetta. Composer/ guitarist Vernon Reid of the rock group Living Colour has created the music for the ‘Here’ section.
As the recipient of the Wexner Center Residency Award the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company spent the month of August at the Wexner Center for the Source Art Ohio State University in Columbus, where Bill T. Jones was given the Center’s mainstage on which to conduct daily full technical rehearsals. Gretchen Bender used the Wexner’s video editing facility to coordinate and program the video imagery for the dance. Throughout the month the company has offered open rehearsals for the Columbus community.
“Still/ Here” may be the first dance created through the unusual process employed by Jones. Although his HIV positive status and the loss of his long time partner and lover Arnie Zane to AIDS in 1988 are the emotional background to “Still/ Here,” in order to understand the experience of all illnesses, the choreographer has been conducting what he calls “Survival Workshops” throughout the United States over the last year. In these group meetings, participants of all ages suffering from diseases such as AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and leukemia talk about themselves and describe their experience in both speech and movement. The movements of the participants were then videotaped and form the basis of the choreography and the overall design of the piece. It is through this remarkable method that Jones has been able to explore questions such as: What does it mean to be told that the double mastectomy wasn’t sufficient, that a virus that causes AIDS is in your blood– that you and the rest of the healthy world now face a vast and seemingly unbreachable divide. The healing power of art adds an invisible, but potent dimension to the work.
In many cities, performances will be followed by a separate symposium called Managing Mortality, lead by Jones with well-known guests from the local area. The New York Symposium will be held on November 28, 1994 at Threadwaxing Space.
The 42 year old choreographer, described by Dance Magazine as “the innovator of a new form of highly theatrical, intensely personal, issue- oriented dance” when it awarded him its coveted annual award in 1993, grew up in upstate New York, the son of migrant farm workers. Jones studied classical ballet and modern dance at the State University of New York at Binghamton, where he co-founded the American Dance Asylum. It was at Binghamton that he met his longtime companion and artistic partner Arnie Zane. In 1974, Zane and Jones joined artistic forces, and for the next decade the two of them performed their groundbreaking solo and duet dances throughout the world. In 1982, they formed Bill T. Jones/ Arnie Zane Dance Company, now with eleven members.
In addition to the dozens of works created for the company with Zane and then, after Zane’s death in 1988, by himself, Jones has received numerous commissions from other companies, including the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Boston Ballet, the Berlin Opera, and the Lyon Opera Ballet, to which he has just been appointed resident choreographer. He conceived, co-directed and choreographed Leroy Jenkins’ “Mother of Three Sons” which was performed at the Munich Biennale, New York City Opera and the Houston Grand Opera. He has also directed theatrical productions such as Kurt Weill’s “Lost in the Stars” for Boston Lyric Opera and Derek Walcott’s “Dream on Monkey Mountain” at the Guthrie Theater.
Jones has received many prestigious awards thoughout his career: a Creative Public Service Award in Choreography in 1979; National Endowment for the Arts choreographic fellowships in 1980, 1981, and 1982; Bessie Awards in 1986 and 1989; the Dorothy B. Chandler performing Arts Award in 1991; and most recently, the coveted MacArthur Fellowship, or “Genius” grant, in 1994.
The Bill T. Jones/ Arnie Zane Dance Company has been exhilarating audiences with its audacious, eloquent, and dramatic works ever since its formation in 1982. The dancers come from varied backgrounds, an eclectic mix that allowed Jones and Zane to create a whole new movement vocabulary. Since its inception the group has frequently toured the nation and the world, performing a dazzling range of work, from the lushly lyrical “D-Man in the Waters” to the intimate “Last Night on Earth” to “Last Supper at Uncle Tom’s Cabin/ The Promised Land,” Jones’ highly dramatic exploration of religion, race and humanity.
Major support for the creation of "Still/ Here" was provided by the Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University through its artist residency program funded by the Wexner Center Foundation. The choreography, video production, stage and lighting design for Still/ Here were completed during a four week creative residency at the Wexner Center.
"STILL/ HERE" was co-Commissioned by Annenberg Center/ Dance Affiliates & NetworkArts Philadelphia, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Center for the Performing Arts of the Pennsylvania State University, Hancher Auditorium at the University of Iowa, The University of Minnesota/ Northrop Auditorium, the Walker Art Center, On the Boards, and the University of Washington World Dance series with support from the Northwest Area Foundation, Lyon Biennale de la Danse, Lyon France, One World Arts Foundation, Pittsburgh Dance Council/ Three Rivers Arts Festival, Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University, and Wisconsin Dance on Tour 1994 Consortium.
Post-production work on the video portion of "Still/ Here" was made possible through the support of the Media Arts and Performing Arts programs of the Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University.