Fri, Sep 07, 2007 - Page 13 News List

Bill T. Jones: An unvarnished view of America

The American artistic director, choreographer and dancer excites or enrages with his work. 'Blind Date' takes aim at the scandal-plagued Republican Party

by Diane Baker  /  Staff reporter

Bill T. Jones' work is part political and part social commentary.Photos: Courtesy of Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company

Fifty-five-year old Bill T. Jones has been making waves in the contemporary dance world for more than three decades. This is due to his own strengths as a dancer and choreographer and largely because of his subject matter, which in his early years focused on racial and sexual equality.

Born in upstate New York, Jones went to university to study theater on an athletic scholarship and began studying dance. He met his partner and companion Arnie Zane in 1971 although they didn't form their company until 1982. During the 1970s they had choreographed and performed both solos and duets, but with the company they began to choreograph large-scale, evening-length pieces notable for their sets (often by pop artist Keith Haring), costuming, dancing and the emotional wallop they packed. These included Intuitive Momentum, Secret Pastures, Freedom of Information and Social Intercourse.

In his own solos, Jones had begun to integrate text and video into the pieces, creating a fusion of dance and theater, and he continued to do so with the work he created for the company, including Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin/The Promised Land (1990) Still/Here (1994), We Set Out Early, Visibility Was Poor (1996), You Walk (2000).

He has also used non-dancers in some of the pieces, as he does with the Blind Date, the work the 10-member company will be performing at the National Theater next week.

Zane died in 1988 of an AIDS-related cancer, but Jones chose not to change their company's name. Since then, in addition to his responsibilities for his own troupe, he has been commissioned to create works for other companies, both in the US and in Europe, and has directed theater and opera productions as well. He was awarded a MacArthur Foundation "genius" fellowship in 1994.

Performance notes

WHAT: Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company

WHEN: Thursday, Sept. 13 to Saturday Sept. 14 at 7:30pm and Sunday Sept. 15 at 2:30pm

WHERE: National Theater (國家戲劇院)

21-1 Zhongshan S Rd, Taipei (台北市中山南路21-1號)

TICKETS: NT$400 to NT$3,000; available at the box office or at www.artsticket.com.tw


Blind Date, which premiered last year, has been described as Jones' most political work in years. It also comes with warnings that it is for "mature audiences" and has "adult themes and nudity." A more apt warning would read: "Will make you think about what's happening to your world and question your values."

The work started out as more of a documentary piece on the company and international, multi-generational dancers (most are in their 20s and Jones himself continues to dance) but thanks to the 2004 US presidential election, it became an inquiry into patriotism, religion, honor and sacrifice and a paean to the values of the Age of Enlightenment.

In interviews, Jones has said he wanted to address what he called "a national atmosphere of toxic moral certainty" in the US. Through spoken word, video and his choreography he questions war, the plight of the urban poor, the Republicans' sexual moralism (which is certainly pertinent right now given the recent sexual scandals bedeviling GOP lawmakers). What do people believe in, Blind Date asks. What are they willing to die for?

The performance begins with words scrolling down screens, in several languages, describing an ideal society, one that embraces religious tolerance, and one that has no room for cruelty or violence. It is set to a score that ranges widely from Bach to Otis Reading and from an Irish folk song to the US, French and Mexican national anthems.

The dancing ranges from intense solos to military-precision drill work for the entire company and from a scary "trust me" exercise that has audiences wondering which dancer is going to break their nose or something else as they plunge to the floor, to passionate duets.

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