|Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane in their Secret Pastures, 1984. Photo: Tom Caravaglia|
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.
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.