Windy City Media Group Frontpage News


home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2021-09-01



Bill T. Jones Starts a New 'Chapter'
by Andrew Davis

This article shared 2872 times since Tue Apr 1, 2008
facebook twitter google +1 reddit email

It speaks to Bill T. Jones' iconic status that he is revered by so many different groups of people—including dance enthusiasts, the African-American community and the LGBT demographic. Part of the reason he is idolized is because his works with the New York City-based Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company ( co-founded in 1982 with his late life and business partner ) still push the boundaries of modern dance. The other facet involves Jones' own seemingly regal bearing, composed of curiosity, intellectual authority and his courage to come forward as a Black, gay, HIV-positive individual.


Pictured: Bill T. Jones. Photo by Kevin Fitzsimons.


On Wed-Sat., April 9-12, Jones will present his newest work, Chapel/Chapter ( which covers three dramatic stories involving violence and murder ) , at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago. Jones talked with Windy City Times about Zane, the evolution of dance and the Tony Award he won last year for choreographing Spring Awakening.

Windy City Times: Could you talk about what Arnie [ Zane ] was really like?

Bill T. Jones: I met him when I was 19 and he was about 20 or 21. To say he was dynamic would be an understatement. He was motivated, and had strong opinions and passions. He was very organized, and was husband and wife to me.

He was a bit of a Napoleon; he had this vision of taking over the world. He wanted a life in the suburbs at a time when all of our cool friends were living in the East Village, which was a very wise thing on his part.

He came from an Italian-American father and a Jewish mother who met each other in the Bronx in the '40s; they loved each other madly. His mother was from a family of rabbis, so there was a very strong Jewish identity, but it was somehow mediated by his father. The father converted to Judaism and changed his last name to Zane because [ the former surname ] sounded too Gentile—I think that's the way the story goes. Arnie had an elastic identity. There was a point literally when he was going through a spiritual phase, and he was wearing a Star of David and a Christian cross at the same time.

I loved him madly—I really, really loved him—and some of the most important things I discovered I did with him by my side. Taste in decor, taste in art, taste in food—all of those things were developed with him.

WCT: Let's talk about your personality. You've always stood out to me as being proud. Has this [ strength in character ] always been a part of you or did you have some sort of epiphany one day?

BTJ: I think 'proud' is one way to put it. By temperament, I think I'm an introspective extrovert. Coming from a very large family—12 kids—one had to really struggle for identity, and I understood that one way to [ achieve ] that was through language. Also, I had the good fortune—unlike my oldest siblings—to be raised in the North instead of the South, so I was allowed to learn how to speak, and I was expected to express myself. Like I said in [ Jones' memoir ] Last Night on Earth, one was expected to speak a certain way at the predominantly white schools we attended, but when we came home we were expected to not put on airs.

So, as a young child, you had to know what was a usable personality for the outside world and what was an authentic personality. Having to reconcile those two problems all my life had me constantly alert. By the time I started making art as a young man at 19, I was quite belligerent—and maybe that's what you mean by 'proud.' I've always been interested in ideas, I question everything and I do believe that there is an essential self—and an essential self has to be defended, and sometimes that does feel like a 'fist in the air' position, less so now that I'm in my middle years. This is another way of saying that the person inside was and is very vulnerable—a person with a deep sense of insecurity but a great capacity for love and, I daresay, forgiveness.

WCT: When I talked with choreographer Joel Hall a couple years ago, he commented that 'there's a discrepancy between Blacks and white in terms of opportunities and jobs [ in dance ] .' How do you feel about that statement?

BTJ: Let's put it this way: You may be correct, but a young Black male [ who is ] halfway well-trained and disciplined can write [ his ] own ticket. The dance world is hungry for males, first of all, but also young Black ones; they are much in demand.

Having said that, I know that there are all sorts of prejudice against our intellectual capabilities. It's one thing to be a young stud on stage, dancing and sweating in somebody else's work. It's something else altogether to get the world to take your ideas—your intellectual engagement—seriously. That's the biggest gap I've found there.

You have to realize that, in general, dance is not a valued commodity in the culture, no matter what they say about [ the TV shows ] Dancing with the Stars or So You Think You Can Dance? Anyone who goes into the dance world is going to realize that it's going to be a very difficult career, there will be few rewards and one has to fight to make a middle-class living, never mind establish a highly individualistic and idiosyncratic way of creating art.

WCT: It's interesting you mentioned Dancing with the Stars because, for some people, that's their idea of what dancing is.

BTJ: Well, having never seen the show—I've only read about it and shuddered—I think that it's unfortunate. For me, dance came in the footsteps of people who were rebelling against the classical modern dance that was defined somewhere between the 1930s and 1960s. There was a generation of avant-garde artists—primarily white, middle-class young people—that began to question [ established ] notions of what dance was. They were anti-technique, anti-glamour and [ against ] the position that early modern dance took.

My generation came after that generation of modern dance. We were more open to things like technique, theatrical presentation and glamour—and we were very conscious of trying to make careers. And the generation that came after me, race and gender aside, was better educated than my generation was. They were people who actually had gone to many dance departments around the country, coming out with degrees, expecting that they were going to—well, I don't know what they expect to do. Quite frankly, I'm often disappointed. I don't think [ schools ] prepare students for real life. What does it mean to have a bachelor's in performance? Can you find a job?

WCT: You also mentioned questioning ideas. What concepts do you question now—either through your works or just in general?

BTJ: I question my own identity as an artist—what does that mean? I'm a child of people who were basically field workers, and who taught that the American Dream was an almost Ebony magazine notion of what a Black person should be—you should do better than [ the preceding generation ] had done.

No, I didn't want to work with my hands, per se, but I did feel like to had to pay my way. I chose to do it with models like James Baldwin—the idea of entering into an arena of creativity and intellectual elite [ individuals ] , but I wanted to do it through modern dance.

The ideas I question [ involve ] who consumes the work I make. Am I in the same continuum of the entertainment industry as something like Dancing with the Stars or Hollywood movies? One has to reconcile that if one expects people to spend their discretionary cash on entertainment. What are we offering them in return? What makes the work we do different from popular art or the 'high art' you would see in the opera houses? Are we extending some dialogue about democracy? Are we extending some inspiration about formal beauty and what is worth doing on stage? That's a big one for me.

Also, what is worth doing in terms of a lifestyle? Keeping a dance company is very, very difficult in a world where you have to fight every year to justify yourself. Is it worth doing? I have to answer that question through doing.

And the piece coming to Chicago is something I'm very proud of because I think, in that work, many of those questions are answered—at least, for the time being. It's a work that has a rigorous formal structure; it's uncompromising on that level—you have to be really alert to read what's going on. It's a work that demands a great deal of skill in the execution of the dances, skill in the way the movement is created, skill in the actual beauty of the space and skill in manipulating very tough content. So I feel validated in it; it's the type of art I would actually like to watch—and, yet, it's quite humanist in its heart. [ The work ] has the potential to perhaps—and I use this word advisedly—teach people something. If nothing else, it should teach them how to look at their complacency.

WCT: The reviews of Chapel/Chapter call the work 'riveting,' 'disturbing,' and 'compassionate,' to name a few terms. When you hear those words, do you feel like you've accomplished what you set out to do?

BTJ: My demons are abated, temporarily—and the demons come with the questions that come constantly. The work almost, by accident, hit a home run, maybe. It was supposed to have been [ a work ] for an uptown Harlem-based organization I've been associated with for some years now. They gave us space to rehearse; I was obliged to give a performance.

I had been trying to put my roots in the Harlem community, and get my downtown audience to come uptown. So I thought to do something easy but something designed for a brand-new space called The Gatehouse, a renovated water-pumping station from [ the late 19th century ] . The 'Chapel' comes from the [ venue ] almost appearing like a sacred space; the 'Chapter' part comes from me thinking about stories. I'm always thinking in terms of stories and anecdotes, and I was reading a newspaper and you read some of these horrible crimes. I wanted to find three or four stories that were archetypal.

So when I read people saying positive things about it, I think that this is pointed in the direction that my company should develop towards: acting; text; interesting, constantly evolving notion of movement, which is my legacy from the post-modern dance world; and a type of forum or clearinghouse where ideas can be exchanged.

WCT: I've never spoken with a Tony Award winner, so I have to congratulate you.

BTJ: Thank you. I'm still trying to understand what that means. Someone asked me what [ the win ] means, and I said, 'For a person in their middle age, it means that life is still capable of delivering surprises.'

I didn't anticipate winning that way. I didn't think I'd be rewarded for being a newcomer and for making such an atypical contribution to the season.

WCT: Is there anything you would like to add?

BTJ: I think that gay people should understand that modern dance is something that should be supported and taken seriously, as gay men and gay women have been major architects of this most American art form. It's a place in which the ideas that are dear to us, as gay people, are lived daily—ideas about power, the body, the connection between fashion and art, individuality, community building. All of those things are in modern dance, and I would encourage [ the gay community ] to support modern dance in their community.

Tickets for the April 9 Chapel/Chapter gala are $300-$500. For more information or to purchase tickets to the gala, e-mail or call 312-397-3868. For tickets to the April 10-12 performances ( with tickets costing $28-$40 ) , call 312-397-4010 or visit .

This article shared 2872 times since Tue Apr 1, 2008
facebook twitter google +1 reddit email


Gay News

Hubbard Street Dance back on the stage with 'RE/TURN' 2021-10-21
- Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) will present Fall Series: RE/TURN to herald its return to the stage at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph St. The program will feature new premieres as well as audience favorites ...

Gay News

MOVIES 'Bolshoi Ballet' series to start locally Nov. 7 2021-10-21
- The "2021-2022 Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema" series is set to begin Sunday, Nov. 7 with Bolshoi Ballet: Spartacus—LIVE. Spartacus is considered a ballet tour de force, set to Aram Khachaturian's score. Bolshoi Ballet: Spartacus—LIVE is set t ...

Gay News

Visceral Dance Chicago bringing world premieres to Athenaeum Theatre 2021-10-06
--From a press release - CHICAGO, Oct. 5, 2021 — Visceral Dance Chicago—a contemporary company committed to the progression of diverse artists, programs and community collaborations—announced its Fall Engagement 2021 program. The dance company returns ...

Gay News

LGBTQ History Month: Until legal ruling, Disneyland banned same-sex dancers 2021-10-01
- Deemed the "Happiest Place on Earth," Disneyland sadly didn't live up to that billing for same-sex couples during its first three decades. Opened in 1955 by the late Walt Disney, the family-oriented amusement park was built ...

Gay News

Joffrey's Nutcracker returns for the holidays 2021-09-27
--From a press release - (Chicago) — The Joffrey Ballet's reimagined holiday classic, The Nutcracker, by Tony Award®-winning choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, returns to Chicago during the Joffrey's first-ever season at the historic Lyric Opera House ...

Gay News

DANCE Hubbard Street presenting drive-in edition of 'Inside/Out' Oct. 2 2021-09-23
- Hubbard Street Dance Chicago will hold its annual "Inside/Out" choreographic workshop, "Drive-In(side Out)," on Saturday, Oct. 2, at 7 p.m. at ChiTown Movies, 2343 S. Throop St., preceded by a welcome party and DJ starting at ...

Gay News

Chicago Dance History Project moving to Ruth Page Center 2021-09-17
- Chicago Dance History Project (CDHP)—which investigates, documents and presents the individual and institutional past of Chicago dance—plans to move into The Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St., as an artist in residence. ...

Gay News

Joffrey welcomes four dancers from South Korea, Spain and the U.S. 2021-09-15
- The Joffrey Ballet's Mary B. Galvin Artistic Director Ashley Wheater MBE, The and President and CEO Greg Cameron announced the addition of four dancers to the Joffrey roster for the 2021-22 season: Brian Bennett (Lanham, Maryland), ...

Gay News

DANCE Ensemble Espanol to open Auditorium Theatre season Oct. 16 2021-09-10
- Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Theater, in residence at Northeastern Illinois University, will return to the Auditorium Theatre on Saturday, Oct. 16, at 7:30 p.m. The company will mark the finale performance of its 45th-anniversary "Zafiro Flamenco ...

Gay News

Footwork dancers to be featured Sept. 10 in Art on theMART event 2021-09-05
- "Dance Down by The River"—an evening of Chicago dance and music—is coming to the Riverwalk in conjunction with Art on theMART thanks to a Chicago Presents grant awarded by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and ...

Gay News

MUSIC Upcoming 'Carmen' featuring queer lead, male drag 2021-09-05
- On Sept. 16 and 18 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph St., Chicago audiences will have the rare opportunity to hear two world-class dramatic mezzo-sopranos debut new roles opposite one another ...

Gay News

TV 'Dancing with the Stars' to feature first same-sex partnership 2021-08-27
- ABC's Dancing With the Stars will be breaking new ground in the upcoming 30th season—with its first same-sex partnership. According to Deadline, on Aug. 26, host Tyra Banks and executive producer Andrew Llinares revealed that the ...

Gay News

MUSIC Diplo, Galantis part of Spring Awakening 2021-08-24
- The organizers of the Chicago electronic dance music (EDM) festival Spring Awakening have added the acts Diplo and Galantis to the Oct. 2-3 event. Spring Awakening will take place in Addams/Medill Park, 1301 W. 14th St. ...

Gay News

Joffrey Ballet's "Home: a Celebration" opens inaugural season at Lyric Opera House 2021-08-18
--From a press release - August 18, 2021 (Chicago) — The Joffrey Ballet opens its inaugural season at the Lyric Opera House and marks its return to live performances with Home: a Celebration, a triumphant mixed repertory program that spotlights original ...

Gay News

Aug. 12 dance film to explore gender, queerness in South Asian arts 2021-08-03
- Ashwaty Chennat, a Chicago Dancemakers 2021 Digital Dance grantee, has continued her collaboration with Abhijeet Rane to explore gender, queerness and the body in South Asian arts and traditions. An excerpt of Chennai and Rane's ...


Copyright © 2021 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.







About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.