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Jones, Bill T. 1952–

Bill T. Jones 1952

Dancer, choreographer

Fell in Love with Dance

Created Heartening Dances

Blended Life with Art

Selected works

Sources

Bill T. Jones is one of Americas premiere choreographers and dancers. His innovative work has established a growing following and earned excellent reviews. Jones esteem in the dance world is founded on his collaboration with Arnie Zane. From the early 1970s until Zanes death in 1988, Jones and Zane worked closely together, creating award-winning modern dances. Soon after Zanes death, Jones created an extraordinary dance called Absence, which evoked the memory of his late partner and lover, and addresses the varied feelings associated with bereavement. Zanes death is only one of the many subjects with which the choreographer and his troupe have wrestled; Jones said in People that a dance can come from my fears about aging or about the betrayal of the environment. I just want this funky company to say, Yeah, life hurts like hell, but this is how I keep going. I have a sense of humor. Ive got my brothers and sisters. Ive got this ability to make something out of nothing. I can clap my hands and make magic.

Fell in Love with Dance

Jones was born William Tass Jones, the tenth of his parents twelve children, on February 12, 1952. His parents were migrant workers and moved frequently between Florida and New York to find harvesting work. Jones became a star high school athlete in New York, where he also gained valuable early stage experience and became an award-winning amateur actor. As a student at the State University of New York in Binghamton, Jones began to question his artistic direction and sexual orientation. He told People: A lot of things were changing in my life, one of which was meeting Arnie and starting my first relationship with a man. I didnt feel comfortable being a jock anymore, and the theater department was too conservative for me. So dance reared its beautiful head. Soon after their introduction Jones and Zane traveled together to Amsterdam, where they lived for several years before returning to New York, where they formed the American Dance Asylum with Lois Welk in 1973. That troupe performedcompletely nakedto great local acclaim. Jones and Zane would manage, nonetheless, to avoid the predictability that early success often creates. Throughout the 1970s, the Jones performed throughout the world as a soloist as well as in duets with Zane and others.

In 1982 Jones and Zane formed another dance troupe; the new group, however, was immediately accused of selling out because they had created what New York magazine described as big, splashy spectacles in which outrageousness or fashion, of social and political attitudesmelded blithely with earlier formalist concerns. Most critics, though, agreed that the troupes progressiveness in both subject and execution demanded serious attention. Interview called the Jones/Zane troupe one of the freshest and most innovative modern dance troupes in the world, relating how at their breakthrough performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Musics Next Wave Festival in 1982, when they performed with jazz drummer Max Roach, [they] reinvented the language of movement.

At a Glance

Born William Tass Jones in February 15, 1952, in Bunnell, Florida; raised in Florida and Way land, NY; son of migrant laborers. Education; Attended the State University of New York at Binghamton, 1971(?)

Career: Dancer and choreographer, 1970, American Dance Asylum, cofounder with Lois Welk, 1973, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane dance company, cofounder with Arnie Zane, 1982.

Selected Awards: New York Dance and Performance Bessie Award, 1989 and 2001; Dorothy 8, Chandler Performing Arts Award, 1991; MacArthur Fellowship, 1994; Dance Heritage Coalition named Bill T. Jones one of Americas Irreplaceable Dance Treasures, 2000; Dorothy and Lillian Cish prize, 2003.

Addresses: Office Foundation for Dance Promotion, 853 Broadway, Suite 1706, New York, New York 10003,

The dance companys future hung in the balance when Zane became ill in the mid-1980s. Jones feared that making Zanes illness public might adversely effect their funding, but Zane insisted on going public in hope of educating people about AIDS. By refiguring Zanes health issues as artistic material, the troupe began exploring the emotional and physical impact of AIDS in its dances. Living and dying is not the big issue, Jones told the MacNeiVLehrer Report in 1987, as reported in People. The big issue is what youre going to do with your time while youre here. I [am] determined to perform. Zanes death in 1988 was reflected in dances of loss, grieving, anger, and ultimately, acceptance. The company encountered financial problems that year, partly because of Zanes inability to dance. People recounted that the troupe toured less and less often and nearly declared bankruptcy in 1988 but was saved by a group of artist friends who sold their works to raise $100,000.

The company pulled together to support Jones emotionally after Zanes death, again using dance as a catalyst for their grief. The piece Absence was composed by Zane to depict the poignancy of a dancer who has lost a partner of many years. Jones called up the memory of Zane by sometimes seeming out of balance on stage, lacking a counterweight, and then pausing forgetfully for his partners steps. Critic Robert Jones responded in People to a 1989 performance of Absence; he described a shimmering, ecstatic quality that was euphoric and almost unbearably moving. Tobi Tobias, dance critic for New York, said that the work took its shape from Zanes special loves: still images and highly wrought, emotion-saturated vocal music. When another troupe member fell ill with AIDS soon after Zanes death, Jones choreographed D-Man in the Waters, which depicted dancers struggling with fateful tides.

Created Heartening Dances

Triumphs for the troupe after these painful losses included a premiere at the Houston Grand Opera in the fall of 1989 and a debut at the Munich Opera Festival in 1990. Like Absence, Joness next important piece, Last Supper at Uncle Toms Cabin, was inspired partly by Zaneconflict was still a theme, but not strictly as an effect of death. In the New York Times Jones explained the origins of Last Supper at Uncle Toms: I think of Harriet Beecher Stowes novel as a wonderful liberal tract. Arnie Zane and I were talking about the Last Supper a couple of months before he died, and the idea of the Last Supper at Uncle Toms Cabin sort of started as a joke. After Arnie died, I began to look more closely at the idea. There is so much about people being torn from each other and people in pursuit of each other and with the kind of robust athletic partnering that we do, I think well produce something quite evocative.

The subjects in conflict are meant to be resolved in the course of Last Supper at Uncle Toms Cabin, which is divided into distinct parts. The opening section of the dance is a fast-paced summation of Stowes book about slavery, using nontraditional casting, mime, and masks to emphasize the role-playing and absurdity of slavery. The next portion is a series of four solos by women, who in turn present the troubles of a slave, a battered woman, a lesbian, and a prostitute. Jones then dances a solo portrait of Job, the biblical character ravaged by misfortune as a test of his faith in God. Next, the biblical reference to Job becomes a tableau of the Last Supper. The final part of the dance is presented by an enlarged troupethe core company, joined by others, stages a sixties love-in, as it was termed in New York. Its amazing how this sort of cheaply sentimental catharsis can still get to you, the magazine ventured.

Tobias took a broad view of Joness choreography for Last Supper at Uncle Toms Cabin. Dance is not, primarily, what its about. In genre, its a multimedia extravaganza. Although theres plenty of movementvibrant solos in an eclectic vocabulary, sternly patterned group worksomeones usually talking at the same time. [It is a] work bristling with anger, energy, and provocative questions, but one apparently still in progress. Commenting to Tobias, Jones said of the work, This piece must start as a fight and end as a huge song. It remains a testimony to his ongoing commitment to take lifes jumbled and troubled experiences and make them meaningful and beautiful through his art.

Blended Life with Art

For some critics, Joness art does not separate itself enough from real life. Jones, who has been HIV-positive since 1985, held a series of workshops with other HIV-and AIDS-infected people. In 1999 he created Stili Here blending dance with commentary and video clips from the workshop participants. New Yorker dance critic Arlene Croce panned the piece without viewing it as victim art. But Still Here captured the hearts of many; to present it to national and international audiences, Jones worked with others to make it into a television documentary. The making of it also became a television presentation entitled Bill T. Jones: Still/Here with Bill Moyers, for the Public Broadcasting Station in 1997.

In celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, the troupe created The Phantom Project. The Project began as an attempt to represent the creative output of the company over its twenty-year history, however, the retrospective of Joness and Zanes work created a unique situation because neither had concerned themselves with the lasting images or impressions of their work; they were always looking to the future, to their next creation. Jones remarked on the companys Web site that Because our choreographic and theatrical investigation has been broad and evolutionary, any attempt to retrieve a work from the past is like trying to evoke a phantom. The phantom-like qualities came from the elusiveness of the mindset of the choreographers when they created the dances, the context of the times in which the dances were performed, and the physical presence of the dancers themselves. Recreating these qualities was difficult and sometimes impossible, especially since some of the dances had only been performed by Jones and Zane. The anniversary season performances began in New York City in 2003 and would travel throughout the country and the world in 2004.

But as the Phantom Project and documentaries, and even Joness memoirs celebrated the collaboration between Jones and Zane, Jones has continued to create fresh, new performances for himself as a soloist and for others as well. For his artistic output as an individual, the Dance Heritage Coalition honored Jones in 2000 as an irreplaceable dance treasure. In 2003 he won the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Award for his artistic contributions to dance. Bill T. Jones continues to dance and create dances that thrill and challenge audiences around the world.

Selected works

Books

Last Night on Earth (memoirs), Pantheon Books, 1995.

Dance (childrens book), Hyperion, 1998.

Dances

Pas de Deux for Two, 1973.

Absence, 1989.

D-Man in the Water, 1989.

Last Supper at Uncle Toms Cabin/The Promised Land, 1991.

Still Here, 1994.

The Table Project, 2001.

The Phantom Project, 2003.

Sources

Books

Body Against Body: The Dance and Other Collaborations of Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane, Station Hill Press, 1989.

Periodicals

Interview, March 1989.

Los Angeles Times, September 23, 2001.

New York, January 5, 1987; September 10, 1990; November 26, 1990.

New York Times, December 31, 1989; January 27, 2002.

People, July 31, 1989.

Village Voice, August 5, 2002.

Washington Post, June 20, 2000.

On-line

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, www.billtjones.org (July 26, 2004).

Television

Uncle Toms Cabin/The Promised Land (Great Performances television series), PBS, 1992.

Bill T. Jones: Still/Here with Bill Moyers, PBS, 1997.

Ill Make Me a World: A Century of African American Artists, Blackside, 1999.

Free To Dance: The Presence of African-Americans in Modern Dance, PBS, 2001.

Christine Ferran and Sara Pendergast

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Jones, Bill T. 1952(?)—

Bill T. Jones 1952(?)

Dancer, choreographer

At a Glance

Sources

Bill T. Jones is an innovative dancer and choreographer whose most famous works have been based on a loving partnership and the pain of loss. Jones and Arnie Zane formed two dance troupes and had established a growing following and earned excellent reviews when Zane fell ill with AIDS. The two continued to dance their characteristically formalist duets until just before Zanes death in 1988. Soon after, Jones created an extraordinary dance called Absence, which evoked the memory of his late partner and lover, and addresses the varied feelings associated with bereavement. Zanes death is only one of the many subjects with which the choreographer and his troupe have wrestled; Jones said in People that a dance can come from my fears about aging or about the betrayal of the environment. 1 just want this funky company to say, Yeah, life hurts like hell, but this is how I keep going. I have a sense of humor. Ive got my brothers and sisters. Ive got this ability to make something out of nothing. I can clap my hands and make magic.

Joness early life was nomadic: His parents and their twelve children worked where they could, mostly in Florida. Jones later became a star high school athlete in New York, where he also gained valuable early stage experience and became an award-winning amateur actor. As a student at the State University of New York in Binghamton Jones began to question his artistic direction and sexual orientation. He told People: A lot of things were changing in my life, one of which was meeting Arnie and starting my first relationship with a man. I didnt feel comfortable being a jock anymore, and the theater department was too conservative for me. So dance reared its beautiful head. Soon after their introduction Jones and Zane traveled together to Amsterdam, where they lived for several years before returning to New York and forming the American Dance Asylum. That troupe performedcompletely naked to great local acclaim. Jones and Zane would manage, nonetheless, to avoid the predictability that early success often creates.

In 1982 Jones and Zane formed another dance troupe; the new group, however, was accused of selling out because they had created what New York magazine described as big, splashy spectacles in which outra-geousness or fashion, of social and political attitudes melded blithely with earlier formalist concerns. Most

At a Glance

Born c. 1952; raised in Florida and Wayland, NY; son of migrant laborers. Education: Attended the State University of New York at Binghamton c. 1971.

Dancer and choreographer. Co-founded, with Arnie Zane, the American Dance Asylum c. 1974, and the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane dance company, 1982. Principal works include Absence, D-Man in the Waters, and Last Supper at Uncle Toms Cabin.

critics, though, agreed that the troupes progressiveness in both subject and execution demanded serious attention. Interview called the Jones/Zane troupe one of the freshest and most innovative modern dance troupes in the world, relating how at their breakthrough performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Musics Next Wave Festival in 1982, when they performed with jazz drummer Max Roach, [they] reinvented the language of movement.

The dance companys future hung in the balance when Zane became ill in the mid 1980s. Jones feared that making Zanes illness public might adversely effect their funding, but Zane insisted on going public in hope of educating people about AIDS. By refiguring the crisis as artistic material, the troupe began exploring the emotional and physical impact of AIDS in their dances. Living and dying is not the big issue, Jones told the MacNeill Lehrer Report in 1987, as reported in People. The big issue is what youre going to do with your time while youre here. I [am] determined to perform. Zanes death in 1988 was reflected in dances of loss, grieving, anger, and ultimately, acceptance. The company encountered financial problems that year, partly because of Zanes inability to dance. People recounted that the troupe toured less and less often and nearly declared bankruptcy in 1988 but was saved by a group of artist friends who sold their works to raise $100,000.

The company pulled together to support Jones emotionally after Zanes death, again using dance as a catalyst for their grief. The piece Absence was composed by Zane to depict the poignancy of a dancer who has lost a partner of many years. Jones called up the memory of Zane by sometimes seeming out of balance on stage, lacking a counterweight, and then pausing forgetfully for his partners steps. Critic Robert Jones responded in People to a 1989 performance of Absence; he described a shimmering, ecstatic quality that was euphoric and almost unbearably moving. Tobi Tobias, dance critic for New York, said that the work took its shape from Zanes special loves: still images and highly wrought, emotion-saturated vocal music. When another troupe member fell ill with AIDS soon after Zanes death, Jones choreographed D-Man in the Waters, which depicted dancers struggling with fateful tides.

Triumphs for the troupe after these painful losses included a premiere at the Houston Grand Opera in the fall of 1989 and a debut at the Munich Opera Festival in 1990. Like Absence, Joness next important piece, Last Supper at Uncle Toms Cabin, was inspired partly by Zane conflict was still a theme, but not strictly as an effect of death. In the New York Times Jones explained the origins of Last Supper at Uncle Toms: I think of Harriet Beecher Stowes novel as a wonderful liberal tract. Amie Zane and I were talking about the Last Supper a couple of months before he died, and the idea of the Last Supper at Uncle Toms Cabin sort of started as a joke. After Arnie died, I began to look more closely at the idea. There is so much about people being torn from each other and people in pursuit of each other and with the kind of robust athletic partnering that we do, I think well produce something quite evocative.

The subjects in conflict are meant to be resolved in the course of Last Supper at Uncle Toms Cabin, which is divided into distinct parts. The opening section of the dance is a fast-paced summation of Stowes book about slavery, using nontraditional casting, mime, and masks to emphasize the role-playing and absurdity of slavery. The next portion is a series of four solos by women, who in turn present the troubles of a slave, a battered woman, a lesbian, and a prostitute. Jones then dances a solo portrait of Job, the biblical character ravaged by misfortune as a test of his faith in God. Next, the biblical reference to Job becomes a tableau of the Last Supper. The final part of the dance is presented by an enlarged troupethe core company, joined by others, stages a sixties love-in, as it was termed in New York. Its amazing how this sort of cheaply sentimental catharsis can still get to you, the magazine ventured.

Tobias took a broad view of Joness choreography for Last Supper at Uncle Toms Cabin. Dance is not, primarily, what its about. In genre, its a multimedia extravaganza. Although theres plenty of movement vibrant solos in an eclectic vocabulary, sternly patterned group worksomeones usually talking at the same time. [It is a] work bristling with anger, energy, and provocative questions, but one apparently still in progress. Commenting to Tobias, Jones said of the work, This piece must start as a fight and end as a huge song, testimony to his ongoing commitment to take lifes jumbled and troubled experiences and make them meaningful and beautiful through his art.

Sources

Interview, March 1989.

New York, January 5, 1987; September 10, 1990;

November 26, 1990. New York Times, December 31, 1989.

People, July 31, 1989.

Christine Ferran

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"Jones, Bill T. 1952(?)—." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Jones, Bill T. 1952(?)—." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/jones-bill-t-1952

"Jones, Bill T. 1952(?)—." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved July 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/jones-bill-t-1952

Jones, Bill T.

Bill T. Jones: (William Tass Jones), 1952–, American dancer and choreographer, b. Bunnell, Fla. A gay African American who has experienced dual prejudices, he has often brilliantly transformed his anger and autobiography into dance. He early became known for highly confrontational, sexually and racially charged dances that obliterated boundaries between the public and private. He and Arnie Zane were life and dance partners from 1971 until Zane died of AIDS (1988), and Jones has continued to direct the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company (est. 1982). Since the late 1980s Jones, who is HIV-positive, has taken mourning and mortality as themes, as in Absence (1989), Last Night on Earth (1992), and his best-known work, Still/Here (1994), a multimedia exploration of death, dying, and survival. Later work, which also reaches beyond dance's traditional parameters, includes The Breathing Show (2000), a solo piece that includes music, speech, and film; the multilayered Reading, Mercy and the Artificial Nigger (2003), an ensemble work based on a story by Flannery O'Connor; Blind Date (2005), with segments that explore war, urban poverty, and repressive sexual mores; and Chapel/Chapter (2006), a powerful interpretation of three contemporary stories, two involving murder, that reflect his social and moral concerns. He has also directed opera and theater, e.g., the modern-dance show Serenade/The Proposition about Abraham Lincoln and the Broadway musical Fela! about the father of afrobeat music (both: 2009). In 2011 Jones's company merged with Dance Theater Workshop to form New York Live Arts; Jones became executive artistic director of the new organization.

See his memoir, Last Night on Earth (1995).



See his memoir (with P. Gillespie), Last Night on Earth (1995).

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