Profile: Before forming Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company (then called Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane & Company) in 1982, Mr. Jones choreographed and performed nationally and internationally as a soloist and duet company with his late partner, Arnie Zane.
The Early Years: Bill T Jones / Arnie Zane Dance Company was formed in 1982, premiering its first work in Brooklyn. The tenth of twelve children in a migrant worker’s family, Bill T. Jones spent his early years traveling up and down the East coast with his parents as they followed the crop seasons. It was then, singing rounds in dusty tractor yards and watching grown-up from the shadows of the juke joints, that Jones began his life in dance. He came of age in the 60’s with Woodstock and the music of The Doors, Bob Dylan and Nina Simone, and he attended college during the era of militant student activism in the early seventies.
It was at college that he met, and fell in love, with Arnie Zane – the beginning of an artistic relationship that would last 17 years and only end with Zane’s death in 1988. Jones has continued to choreograph and dance.
His work is a way to express profound emotion; of exploring ideas around memory, sexuality, race and mortality; of imposing order and beauty on chaos and despair.
Bill T. Jones, a 1994 recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, began his dance training at the State University of New York at Binghamton (SUNY), where he studied classical ballet and modern dance. After living in Amsterdam, Mr. Jones returned to SUNY, where he became co-founder of the American Dance Asylum in 1973.
Choreography: In addition to creating more than 50 works for his own company, Mr. Jones has received many commissions to create dances for modern and ballet companies including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Axis Dance Company, Boston Ballet, Lyon Opera Ballet, Berkshire Ballet, Berlin Opera Ballet and Diversions Dance Company, among others. He has also received numerous commissions to create new works for his own company, including premieres for the Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and for St. Luke’s Chamber Orchestra. In 1995, Mr. Jones directed and performed in a collaborative work with Toni Morrison and Max Roach, Degga, at Alice Tully Hall, commissioned by Lincoln Center’s Serious Fun Festival. His collaboration with Jessye Norman, How! Do! We! Do! premiered at New York’s City Center in 1999 as part of Lincoln Center’s Great Performers New Visions series. The Breathing Show, Mr. Jones’ evening long solo, premiered at Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City in the fall of 1999.
In 1990, Mr. Jones choreographed Sir Michael Tippet’s New Year under the direction of Sir Peter Hall for the Houston Grand Opera and the Glyndebourne Festival Opera. He conceived, co-directed and choreographed Mother of Three Sons, which was performed at the Munich Biennale, New York City Opera, and the Houston Grande Opera. He also directed Lost in the Stars for the Boston Lyric Opera. Mr. Jones’ theater involvement includes co-directing Perfect Courage with Rhodessa Jones for Festival 2000, in 1990. In 1994, he directed Derek Walcott’s Dream on Monkey Mountain for The Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, MN.
Television: Television credits for Mr. Jones include Fever Swamp, which was filmed for PBS’s “Great Performances” series, and Untitled for “Alive from Off Center,” which aired on PBS in 1989. In 1992, a documentary on Bill T. Jones’ Last Supper at Uncle Tom’s Cabin/The Promised Land was aired on Dance in America as part of PBS’s “Great Performances” series. CBS Sunday Morning broadcast two features on Mr. Jones’ work, once in 1993 and again in 1994. Still/Here was co-directed for television by Bill T. Jones and Gretchen Bender and aired nationally and internationally. The making of Still/Here was also the subject of a documentary by Bill Moyers and David Grubin entitled ‘Bill T. Jones: Still/Here with Bill Moyers’ which premiered on PBS in 1997. Mr. Jones’ work was profiled in the Blackside documentary entitled I’ll Make Me a World: A Century of African-American Arts, which aired in 1999. Mr. Jones’ D-Man in the Waters is included in Free to Dance, an Emmy award-winning documentary that chronicles modern dance’s African-American roots, which premiered on PBS, Summer 2001.
Awards: In addition to the MacArthur Fellowship, Mr. Jones has received several other prestigious awards. In 1979, Mr. Jones was granted the Creative Artists Public Service Award in Choreography, and in 1980, 1981 and 1982, he was the recipient of Choreographic Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1986, Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane were awarded a New York Dance and Performance Bessie Award for the Joyce Theater season, and in 1989 and 2001, Mr. Jones was awarded two more “Bessies” for his work, D-Man in the Waters (1989), and The Table Project and The Breathing Show (2001). Mr. Jones, along with his collaborators Rhodessa Jones and Idris Ackamoor received an Izzy Award for Perfect Courage in 1990. In 2001, Mr. Jones received another “Izzy” for his work Fantasy in C-Major, with Axis Dance Company. Mr. Jones was honored with the Dorothy B. Chandler Performing Arts Award for his innovative contributions to performing arts in 1991. In 1993, Mr. Jones was presented with the Dance Magazine Award. In 2000, The Dance Heritage Coalition named Mr. Jones An Irreplaceable Dance Treasure. Mr. Jones has received honorary doctorates from the Art Institute of Chicago, Bard College, the Juilliard School, Swarthmore College, and the SUNY Binghamton Distinguished Alumni Award. Mr. Jones served as the 1998 Robert Gwathmey Chair at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Art and Science.
Author: Mr. Jones’ memoirs, Last Night on Earth, were published by Pantheon Books in 1995. An in-depth look at the work of Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane can be found in Body Against Body: The Dance and Other Collaborations of Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane, published in 1989 by Station Hill Press. Hyperion Books published Dance, a children’s book written by Bill T. Jones and photographer Susan Kuklin, in 1998. Mr. Jones is proud to have contributed to Continuous Replay: The Photography of Arnie Zane, published by MIT Press in 1999.