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Bill T. Jones

Dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones was born on February 15, 1952 in Bunnell, Florida. He was the tenth of twelve children born to Estella Jones and Augustus Jones, both migrant farmers. At the age of twelve, Jones’ family moved to Wayland County in upstate New York. After graduating from Wayland High School, Jones enrolled at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Binghamton where he studied dance and participated in track and field.

In 1971, Jones met Arnie Zane, a photographer, who helped him discover his destiny as a dancer. Jones and Zane joined with one of their professors, Lois Welk, to form the American Dance Asylum (ADA). Their work with the ADA eventually led to Jones’ solo debut with the Dance Theatre Workshop’s Choreographers’ Showcase in 1977. During the next few years, Jones and Zane performed internationally. In 1982, Jones and Zane formed the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. Although the dance troupe met with great success, Zane took ill in 1984; and, in 1988, he died of AIDS-related lymphoma. Jones continued to work with the troupe and created personal works that allowed him to express his grief. One such work, “Absence,” made its debut in 1989. In 1990, the troupe premiered another work inspired by Zane, “Last Supper at Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

In addition to creating more than 140 works for his own company, Jones has been commissioned to create dances for several modern and ballet companies, including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Boston Ballet, Lyon Opera Ballet, and Berlin Opera Ballet, among others. Jones directed and performed in a collaborative work with Toni Morrison and Max Roach, “Degga” (1995), at Alice Tully Hall, which was commissioned by the Lincoln Center’s Serious Fun Festival. His collaboration with Jessye Norman, “How! Do! We! Do!” (1999), premiered at New York’s City Center. In 2010, Jones was named executive artistic director of New York Live Arts, a company formed by a merger of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and Dance Theater Workshop.

Jones’ work has been recognized with the 2010 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award; the 2005 Wexner Prize; the 2005 Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement; the 2003 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize; and the 1993 Dance Magazine Award. Jones has also received Honorary Doctorate Degrees from Yale University, the Art Institute of Chicago, Bard College, Columbia College, Skidmore College, the Juilliard School, and Swarthmore College. He is a recipient of the State University of New York at Binghamton Distinguished Alumni Award.

Bill T. Jones was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 8, 2014.

Accession Number

A2014.190

Sex

Male

Interview Date

10/8/2014

Last Name

Jones

Maker Category
Middle Name

T.

Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Wayland-Cohocton High School

State University of New York at Binghamton

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Bill

Birth City, State, Country

Bunnell

HM ID

JON38

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Florida

Favorite Vacation Destination

New Mexico

Favorite Quote

Naming Things Is Only The Intention To Make Things.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

2/15/1952

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Anything My Companion Makes

Short Description

Dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones (1952 - ) cofounded the American Dance Asylum and the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. He also served as executive artistic director of New York Live Arts.

Employment

American Dance Asylum

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company

New York Live Arts

Dance Theatre Workshop

Favorite Color

None

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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Bill T. Jones' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Bill T. Jones lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Bill T. Jones describes his father's upbringing and occupation

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Bill T. Jones describes his mother's upbringing and personality

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Bill T. Jones talks about how his parents met

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Bill T. Jones describes his likeness to his parents

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Bill T. Jones describes his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Bill T. Jones describes his home in Wayland, New York

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Bill T. Jones lists his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Bill T. Jones describes the African American community in Wayland, New York

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Bill T. Jones talks about race relations in Wayland, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Bill T. Jones describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Bill T. Jones remembers his most influential teachers

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Bill T. Jones describes his experiences at the Wayland Central School in Wayland, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Bill T. Jones remembers his house burning down

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Bill T. Jones recalls his family's musical talents

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Bill T. Jones recalls his introduction to dance

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Bill T. Jones recalls working with Percival Borde

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Bill T. Jones remembers meeting Arnie Zane

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Bill T. Jones remembers traveling to Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Bill T. Jones remembers studying dance in California with Lois Welk

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Bill T. Jones recalls establishing the American Dance Asylum

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Bill T. Jones describes the style of the American Dance Asylum

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Bill T. Jones remembers documenting his early choreography

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Bill T. Jones lists the choreographers who influenced him

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Bill T. Jones recalls his debut at the Delacorte Theater in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Bill T. Jones recalls the response to his first major performance

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Bill T. Jones talks about his relationship with Lois Welk

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Bill T. Jones talks about his partnership with Arnie Zane

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Bill T. Jones talks about the critical reception of his work

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Bill T. Jones remembers meeting Alvin Ailey

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Bill T. Jones describes his choreographic influences, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Bill T. Jones describe his choreographic influences, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Bill T. Jones remembers forming the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Bill T. Jones talks about Arnie Zane's death

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Bill T. Jones describes the influence of the AIDS crisis upon his work

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Bill T. Jones talks about his grieving process

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Bill T. Jones remembers his relationship with Arthur Aviles

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Bill T. Jones recalls the start of his relationship with Bjorn Amelan

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Bill T. Jones reflects upon his romantic relationships

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Bill T. Jones remembers receiving a MacArthur Fellowship

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Bill T. Jones talks about his critics

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Bill T. Jones describes his family's reaction to his work

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Bill T. Jones remembers collaborating with Max Roach and Toni Morrison

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Bill T. Jones remembers his choreography for 'Spring Awakening'

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Bill T. Jones remembers directing and choreographing 'Fela!'

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Bill T. Jones recalls his company's merger with the Dance Theater Workshop

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Bill T. Jones talks about New York Live Arts

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Bill T. Jones describes 'Story/Time'

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Bill T. Jones talks about 'Analogy/Dora: Tramontane'

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Bill T. Jones describes 'A Letter to My Nephew'

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Bill T. Jones describes his plans for the future

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Bill T. Jones reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Bill T. Jones describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$5

DAStory

7$5

DATitle
Bill T. Jones recalls his debut at the Delacorte Theater in New York City
Bill T. Jones remembers collaborating with Max Roach and Toni Morrison
Transcript
In '77 [1977] is when you have your--your debut (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Debut at the Delacorte Theater [New York, New York].$$So tell me how that came to--came about.$$Around this time--was it around the same time that we had seen Robert Wilson at the Met [Metropolitan Opera House, New York, New York]? I'm not sure; the dates don't quite work out. But we were down in one of our few visits to New York [New York] like I--as I say, we had this kind of--we were dismissing New York. Came down, and we went to take a class in release technique, which was the rage in certain quarters; very slow moving, getting at some sort of primal state of ease to release unin- uninflected or unaffected movement. I think her name was Susan Kline [ph.] was--and, and in her studio, at least the space that we were teaching, there was a poster advertising auditions at Clark Center dance festival--at the Clark Center [Clark Center for the Performing Arts; Clark Center NYC, New York, New York] for the dance festival. And on a lark, I thought, what the hell? I don't care what they say in New York; it doesn't matter, but I'll come down and try. And I came down and I did a piece that I had premiered at the American Dance Asylum with me on a pair of shoes, dancing to a high--white blocks, actually--a piece called 'Everybody Works' ['Everybody Works/All Beasts Count,' Bill T. Jones] which had been a larger piece; it had one solo, and then it was a piece about unemployment with animal heads--don't ask me; stamping your--'cause we were all unemployed--stamping your--you know, with the unemployment--you know, to get your check every week, you have to show that you looked for work. So that's what it was--'Everybody Works.' And it was Jesse Fuller, this old one man band from the Bay Area [San Francisco Bay Area, California]. (Singing), "Got the blues from my baby down by the San Francisco Bay," ['San Francisco Bay Blues'], that was one of his hits, and (singing), "Everybody works at my house but my old man" ['Everybody Works at My House but My Old Man']. So those were all musics in the solo; I auditioned it. It must have been a mess, but I--obviously it was something to it. I improvised by shouting to a stranger to turn the lights on and off 'cause, of course, they hadn't given you any time, and I was just being provocative and I, I threw in an obscene gesture in what I was doing, and I was doing everything to let them know that I was free person and I did not care. They were all sitting in the dark. For years later, people would come say, "You know, I was there the day that you did that." Now, were they the ones who voted for me or not, I don't know. And then I got a call, or some sort of notification, back in Binghamton [New York], that Louise Roberts wanted to speak to me. Louise Roberts, is a feisty Jewish woman, really important to--$$Dance.$$--progressive dance, who invited me--but with a caveat that I had to change certain things. And I said, "You are trying to censure my work." And she says, "Listen buster, you got a chip on your shoulder and New York's gonna knock it off; do you wanna do this or not?" And I sputtered a bit, and I said, "Yes, I do." And so I did the, the Delacorte Theater--biggest audience I'd ever been in front of, on the same program with the Joffrey Ballet and Charles Moore and--I don't remember the other people, but it was, it was serious dance world, and who is this person out of nowhere? That's how it happened, and it was actually well received.$I want--did Toni Morrison--I wanted to ask you about working with her and--$$And Max?$$--and Max, right.$$'Degga' [Bill T. Jones]?$$Right, that's right.$$Right, right.$$How did that come about?$$Through Max, through Max.$$Max Roach is what we're talking about (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Max Roach, he had--Max Roach, yes. And I had already--Max Roach and Arnie [Arnie Zane] and I, with Connie Crothers, had done a piece called 'Intuitive Momentum' at the Brooklyn Academy of Music [Brooklyn, New York] on one of the first Next Waves [Next Wave Festival], so he and I had a, had a relationship, and he and I had also, I think, at that point, had done some solo concerts in, in Lisbon [Portugal] and in Seville [Spain], I believe--I, I--yeah, in Seville. So we had a relationship, and then he--there was this opportunity through the Lincoln Center [Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, New York, New York]--Jane Moss, I believe, for us to do anything we wanted to do, and Max said, "We should get Toni involved." And he told me that--well, and Toni, and Toni said, you know, "I'm not interested in dancing and, and reading--dancing and movement." You know, she was very hu- tough like that, and Max tells me about the time that they were doing--and they flew across country to do something, an event, and she didn't speak the whole time; she was reading, and he said, "Toni, shouldn't we be talking about what we're gonna do?" She said, "You're gonna play and I'm gonna read." (Makes sound) Back to her book, you know? Now, he's bringing in this guy--I don't think she had ever even seen the work--probably, probably didn't care very much for contemporary dance, and he's bringing it in--bringing me in, and we met one afternoon in the studio; I think it was at Lincoln Center, I'm not quite sure, and she read beau- you know how she reads very quietly. She read from 'Beloved' [Toni Morrison]--enchanting; and then I danced a capella--danced a capella, and I sang a folk song as I was improvising, and something in it moved her. And then we went out to eat, and at the end of the book, I remember her say that--we were sharing, and she reached over and took a--something off my plate, and the bite, and I knew that we would be all right. And we did enjoy, we did enjoy. She, she said no, she isn't gonna dance. She said, "You want Madonna, you don't want me," you know. She had knee problems and all, and--but by the end of it--she was loose, you know, she, she enjoyed, you know. I wish we could have done it more, but it was a--one of those things I'm very, very proud of.