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Profile: Bill T. Jones, a master of modern dance

After receiving Kennedy Center Honors, Bill T. Jones remembers his long career as a dancer and choreographer, and he discusses his future plans.

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Jones's reflections on the life and times of Abraham Lincoln, "Fondly Do We Hope... Fervently Do We Pray," performed by his dancers, several singers, and an actor-narrator, was commissioned by the Ravinia Festival in Illinois in 2009. It will be performed in Parma, Italy, May 7 and 8. Later this year, a feature-length film on the making of the Lincoln piece will be shown on PBS's "American Masters" series.

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The responsibility of running a 10-member company, even with a devoted staff, requires Jones to "keep feeding the beast," as he calls it, which means constantly creating new repertory. Now that "Fondly Do We Hope" has joined other works on tour, and "Body Against Body" is ready to go on the road, Jones is deep in plans for another.

"Story/Time" has been simmering in his mind as a way for him to return to the stage without having to dance – he cites a litany of physical problems. But he recently asked himself, "Where does Bill, the performer, come in? What do I want to do to come onstage? I thought about what I love to do. I love to talk."

He says he's been "intrigued" by composer John Cage's "Indeterminacy." The 1959 work comprises 90 stories by Cage, which he read into a microphone from one room, while pianist and composer David Tudor provided unplanned accompaniment from another.

"Some of the stories are 100 words long, others are 200 words, but each one is delivered in the same time, one minute each. He's not talking about the content of the stories," Jones says. "He's a composer, doing time. I'm hoping to tell my own 90 stories in a way that won't turn into a confession. I'm an emotional person; I have a lot of strong feelings, but what if I had to control that in some formal way, like time?"

Jones intends to make a work for the theater, set within a bank of images, while the audience is encouraged to watch and participate on their cellphones.

"It would be connecting my inner world, the stories, the ideals that move me, with an external world, [my dancers] and the audience, then another part of the external world, the social network," he says.

Meanwhile, Jones and his company have completed the move to combine Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and Dance Theatre Workshop into a new entity, New York Live Arts, conceived as a new model of an artist-led, producing/presenting organization. He sees the new institution as a chance for a "bigger cultural footprint," rather than just a focus on dance.

"For me, the big struggle has been to find a place in the world through identity, history, and love," Jones says. "Though I move on, I must always ask the questions: Whom do I love, and what values are worth holding on to?"


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