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Bill T. Jones Overview

born: 1952
born in: New York
lives in:
Bill T. Jones's acclaimed multicultural dance company, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane and Company, continues to relish a record of undimmed critical success. Jones has created a stunning corpus of pattern-driven, avant-garde pieces that explore life's journeys -- an intimate topic for... [more]

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The Joyce Theater New York, NY, United States

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The Kitchen New York, NY, United States

The Kitchen is a non-profit, interdisciplinary organization the provides exhibition and performance opportunities to innovative artists in media, literacy and performing arts.  The Kitchen... / read more

Dance Theater Workshop New York, NY, United States

Dance Theater Workshop's mission is to identify, present and support independent contemporary artists and companies to advance dance and live performance in New York and worldwide.  DTW... / read more

Danspace Project New York, United States

The mission of Danspace Project is to stimulate, promote, and present challenging new work in dance from a broad range of artistic voices within a distinguished and nurturing environment. Danspace... / read more


Past Events

Chapel/Chapter New York, United States
11 Jun - 14 Jun
Harlem Stage / details
Serenade/The Proposition New York, NY, United States
10 Nov - 15 Nov
The Joyce Theater / details


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Interview with Janet Wong

november 11th, 2009 serenade/the proposition: an interview with janet wong by Aktina at 12:06 pm Janet Wong, Associate Artistic Director of Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and creator of the video art for Serenade/the Proposition, discusses the creation of the piece with Aktina Stathaki. AS: Can you give us a bit of background on Serenade/The Proposition? How was the idea born? Can you describe the process of researching and developing the piece? JW: We were commissioned to create a work about Abraham Lincoln for his bicentennial by the Ravinia Festival. We were doing a lot of research about the man and his times and Bill decided that all the new works in these two years will be around this subject. Serenade/The Proposition premiered at ADF last year and was the first. We have three so far. We read a lot. Bill and I have our own library of Lincoln books. The dancers and musicians were also doing their own reading. We watched a couple of documentaries together . And then there is the internet. AS: Serenade/The Proposition comes to The Joyce after being shown at other venues. And it is linked to another of the company’s works inspired by the legacy of A. Lincoln, Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray. I remember reading an interview in which Bill T. Jones said that works are babies that need attention and time to grow. How, in your experience working with the company, do the works grow from babies to maturity? Does time bring changes/revisions of ideas? JW: It is different with every piece. For Serenade/The Proposition there were very few changes. In the past we have turned other pieces inside out after the premiere, changed the whole ending, etc. This piece was made in less than half the time that we usually have for a full length work. We were making major changes to the structure everyday during the week of technical rehearsals and somehow on the very last day we arrived at something that felt right and it stayed. I know that when new dancers come into the cast next year, there will be some changes. AS: In contemporary performing arts (dance as much as theater), we see a growing interest in exploring the intersections between movement, music and text. Please speak a bit about how this general trend affects the work of the company. JW: Bill has been using text since he first started making work. We have of course done works that are music-driven exploration of pure dance, but throughout the history of the company there have been many works that incorporate text, including Serenade/The Proposition. AS: Bill T. Jones has previously said that the company’s aesthetic is social vision. Can you elaborate on this? JW: That’s a hard one. I don’t know about aligning aesthetic and social vision but maybe this speaks to it. Bill and Arnie created this company because society at large said they cannot have children. They wanted the company to look like the world that they want to live in. On the other hand, many works from the company’s past and present deal with the social. AS: How is the engagement with historical material reflected in Bill’s process of creating and choreographing this piece? In other words, how does the literary and archival research finds its way into the work? JW: This piece is in some ways our rumination on history. “It could be said that this history is a woman whose house is divided”, or, “It could be said that history is distance, the distance between that man and me” are two of the many propositions we make. They are our reflection on the historical material. We use excerpts from historical speeches in a few sections, sometimes to contextualize it, sometimes to give it perspective. At other times a paragraph would inspire a section. For example the women’s section came from reading about how women would come to the battlefield to look for their loved ones after a battle. AS: What do the dancers bring into this process of exploration and of finding connections with history? And how does the fact that your dancers come from various cultural backgrounds shape the process of creation as well as the understanding and interpretation of the historical material? JW: The dancers always contribute in a big way. Some of the sections were made from structured improvisation. In other sections they use material that they have learned to create quartets and quintets. And during the process dancers were asked many questions, one of them is if there is such a thing as “the big question of the day” and what is it? This discussion became a sound collage for the piece. The foreign dancers in the company are very invested in the exploration of the historical material, after having made three works. In fact I feel they (Taiwanese, Turkish, Mexican) may have more relation to social upheaval than our American dancers. We did not present their stories in this piece, but we can hear them in the recorded discussion. AS: I find the engagement with history and archival material fascinating. One of the most crucial aspects of understanding and relating to history is that there are dominant interpretations and narratives on history as well as contesting, multiple views and interpretations. How does the company deal with this in the selection of the materials it uses? JW: In Serenade/The Proposition we are not trying to present history in any factual way so we were not very concerned about the different interpretations. But having said that, the fact that there are many interpretations and that the country is still divided on Lincoln and the Civil War (among many things) opened the way for us to write our own ruminations on history. AS: What is the relationship in the performance between language (text) and body? In their juxtaposition, do they complement or contradict each other? JW: The text and movement inform each other. The text sometimes introduces or contextualizes a section. Sometimes a line of text offers us an image that becomes the seed of a whole section. Sometimes we deconstruct, repeat, accumulate the text and use it almost as music. Sometimes the sentiment behind an event or a particular text inspires another section. Sometimes the dance/dancer is the inspiration for the text. AS: This is more of a thought, an observation, rather than a straightforward question but perhaps you’d be interested to comment on it: there is something about history which is archived, “still”, frozen in time. And on the other hand dance is constant motion, always in flux, impossible to capture or repeat. I wonder how this contrast may have affected the company’s work or the way the company sees the engagement with historical material. JW: That’s an interesting point. I was reading a wonderful book, This Republic of Suffering which looks at the civil war through the lens of death while we were making this piece. It was a big inspiration. I knew as I was reading it that I could not even begin to understand what it felt like to be alive then, but somehow I was crying by the end of the introduction. And why am I saying this? Maybe just to say that the “stillness” of history is not so still. The fact that we are looking at history across immense distance in time and space already sets it in motion. In our modest way we try to make the past reflect on us and vice versa. And maybe we do this precisely because of its “stillness”.

Stepping to a new level In his dances, a Boston native reaches to embrace virtuosity, maturity

Stepping to a new level In his dances, a Boston native reaches to embrace virtuosity, maturity By Valerie Gladstone, Globe Correspondent | October 26, 2007 NEW YORK - On a muggy evening, choreographer Seán Curran climbs the stairs of an old building in Manhattan's Chinatown to rehearse his troupe for a three-day engagement at the Tsai Performance Center. A Boston native, Curran feels extra pressure when his company performs in his hometown. "It's nerve-racking," Curran says of the visit, which will take place this weekend, presented by Celebrity Series of Boston. "My entire family comes. They're not really into contemporary dance. So the stakes are high." His dancers, already sweaty from warming up, smile as they greet the choreographer, who sports a spiky haircut and is wearing a black T-shirt, brown corduroys, and striped socks. They launch into "The Nothing That Is Not There and the Nothing That Is," a name drawn from a Wallace Stevens poem. To a poignant Leos Janacek piano score, Kevin Scarpin and Evan Copeland walk slowly across the studio, as if in another world. Nora Brickman and Francisca Romo glance at them and then jump center stage, swiftly raising their hands in gestures of refusal. "I want the shapes of your arms to be more angular, more graphic," Curran says, showing them what he means. "The music reflects the composer's feelings of loss and of a life overgrown with memories. The piece is harsh. It's about people unable to connect." Connecting with people is, in fact, the 46-year-old Curran's greatest strength. Articulate, gregarious, and a natural teacher, he has attracted wide audiences for his witty, highly athletic, visually pleasing, and philosophical dances. They grow out of his eclectic background, which began with a childhood devoted to Irish step dancing, continued with modern-dance training at New York University, and was followed by 10 years performing with the celebrated Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and four years starring in the original cast of the off-Broadway hit show "Stomp." "I learned about speed, musicality, and counterpoint from step dancing," says Curran. "It gave me an appreciation for virtuosity and showmanship. They underlie everything I do. I choreograph to please the eye. Bill T. schooled me in improvisation. Dancing with his company was like being in a laboratory. I've learned about scale, sets, lighting, and theatricality from [choreographing for] opera, and the importance of research because I have to know the scores. It all adds up to a pretty interesting education." Indeed, with that wide-ranging education, Curran seems to have graduated to a new level of maturity as a choreographer. Now celebrating its 10th season, the Seán Curran Company performs regularly in New York and tours extensively in the United States and abroad. Curran increasingly choreographs for opera and theater, including the Metropolitan Opera and New York's Shakespeare Festival. A passionate modern-dance advocate, he teaches at the Boston Conservatory, among other schools. Meanwhile he has evolved artistically, along with his company. Most of his dancers are now at least 20 years younger than he is, and some have backgrounds in yoga and Pilates and are heavily influenced by street and club dancing. (Success hasn't precluded challenges: Curran recently had to trim his company from nine members to six, squeezed like many arts organizations by decreases in funding; two guests will dance with the company in Boston.) "I'm moving into a new period," Curran says. "I'm no longer a colleague of my dancers; I'm the boss. I look kind of funny when I dance with them, so now I only do solos. My new pieces are also very different than the older ones. They're more contemplative, without being any less vigorous and athletic. I jokingly call my new style postmodern Baroque." Boston audiences will see two superb examples of Curran's new style: "Social Discourse," a world premiere to a soundtrack by Radiohead singer Thom Yorke, and the acclaimed "Aria/Apology" (tonight and tomorrow only), set to Handel arias and recordings from the confessional Apology Project. The late artist Allan Bridge began the project in the '80s by giving people the freedom to call his voice mail anonymously and leave apologies for things they were sorry they had done. He was inundated with calls. After compiling them, he set up a website and published them in a magazine. Listening to the recordings is rough going. They concern murder, rape, and incest, often by people who do not seem remorseful. "The apologies are about being wrong," Curran reminds the dancers before rehearsing "Aria/Apology," "and the arias are about grace." They take positions lying on the floor as an apology for a rape begins, the man's voice gruff and defensive. The simple juxtaposition of the passive figures with the description of the heinous act creates a feeling of horror and sadness in the studio. As the ugly words fade away and a glorious aria takes their place, dancers move into a series of lushly tender duets and solos, only to come to a standstill as another anonymous caller talks of killing a gay man. Scarpin then takes center stage, going from one angular position to another in shapes that Curran discovered in paintings of St. Sebastian - an icon for many in the gay community, Curran notes. The Apology Project struck a chord with Curran in part, he says, "because of my history. I only got sober 13 years ago and I had to make a lot of amends to people for the disappointment and hurt that I had caused. I know a lot about shame and guilt and the need to apologize and get it out." After the intensity of "Aria/Apology," the dancers move on to the more lyrical "Social Discourse." The piece "is about this new stage I've entered," Curran explains. "It concerns discussions the dancers have among themselves and discussions between me and them, about ideas and new ways of moving. It's fast and frenetic, as if everyone is talking at the same time, sort of like what happens when I give them a problem to solve." All of his work is collaborative, Curran says: "This time I asked each of them to make a letter S with their bodies. . . . We ended up with six phrases, each a distinctive portrait. And that became the basis of this piece." As Copeland demonstrates his S, curving and winding his body into all kinds of intriguing shapes, it is easy to see why Curran's dancers thrive in his company. "Seán really allows us to put our own personality into his work," says Brickman. "Of course, it's still very much his choreography. Some dancers may find it wonderful to belong to big companies and do the dances of choreographers with great legacies, often learning them off videotape, and being told to do them exactly as dancers of the past. But I love Seán's gift to us of collaboration. He gives us the nugget and then lets us develop it. We become part of the creative process. That's why most of us first decided to be dancers."


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