Social Buttons

Friday, April 20, 2012

BAM Iconic Artist: Bill T. Jones

Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane in their Secret Pastures, 1984. Photo: Tom Caravaglia
Many artists succeed by finding a niche and pursuing it with a singleminded focus. Others, such as Bill T. Jones, experiment in many forms within a broad genre such as dance-theater, and have the rare ability to move between strongly voiced narratives, kinetic poetry, and pure entertainment. It doesn’t hurt to be a charismatic performer seemingly chiseled from Apollonian marble. He founded Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane & Company (later Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Dance Company) with his late partner, Arnie Zane, in 1982, after studying dance at SUNY–Binghamton. For all their experimentation with accumulation, contact improvisation, and formalism, basic identifying facts about Jones and Zane (who died of AIDS in 1988)—black, white, tall, short, velvety, precise—provided immediate contextualization, whether desired or not. Their company members also became noted for their widely varying body types and distinct personalities.

Jones once said, “Arnie and I used to feel if you want to be in the avant-garde, really be a provocateur, you take your ideas from the preserved domain and carry them into the mainstream.” Even though Jones later said he had come to favor the preserved domain, his statement certainly resonates in his work’s broad reach. The pair incorporated social issues and narrative threads, collaborating with visual artists and musicians to add even more intriguing layers. One example, Secret Pastures, performed at BAM in 1984, featured sets by Keith Haring, costumes by Willi Smith, and music by Peter Gordon, encapsulating the BAM Next Wave Festival’s spirit of collaboration.

Jones has choreographed dances dense with formal experimentation and lyricism, from poignant solos to the rich group passages at which he so excels. Yet in the context of dance-theater, he is even better known for topical works addressing race, AIDS, cancer, murder, family bonds, and historical figures. One such work, Still/Here, which premiered at BAM in 1994, became notorious for provoking critic Arlene Croce to write about it despite refusing to see it, declaiming it as “victim art” and “unreviewable.” These productions show his skill at storytelling, dynamics, pacing, using space and movement—essentially, understanding what really works in a theater. And capping the pop culture / narrative thread of his career are highly acclaimed Broadway productions—he choreographed Spring Awakening and directed and choreographed Fela! One unerring consistency through this artist’s complex and varied output is his selection over the decades of remarkable performers. Many of his company’s dancers have become successful choreographers, developing their own style and extending a legacy of diversity and experimentation in form and content.

—Susan Yung

This text was excerpted from BAM: The Complete Works. Click here for more information on the book and here to purchase a copy. Bill T. Jones will participate in an Iconic Artist Talk at BAM on Monday, April 23.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.