Bill T. Jones is one of the most important choreographers of the postmodern era in part because he’s willing to ask big questions. In Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray, his 2009 commission from the Ravinia Festival, he raises the issue of Abraham Lincoln’s “goodness” as well as that of his own – all of ours, for that matter.
The PBS documentary series American Masters uses the elaborate dance-theater production to examine Jones’ point of view, style and intentions. Bill T. Jones: A Good Man makes its television premiere Friday, locally at 8 p.m. on KERA-Channel 13. Back in the summer, I reviewed the film for The Dallas Morning News when it screened at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Here’s the article, originally published on July 14:
Bill T. Jones knows he’s a potential dinner story for anyone who spends time with the self-described pushy, prosecutorial choreographer. “Grace is for the saints,” he says near the end of A Good Man, a penetrating documentary that traces Jones’ contentious creation of a multimedia dance work about Abraham Lincoln as a window into his driven, questioning artistic process. “There’s a fire every day. There is no easing up.”
In a sneak preview ahead of its November premiere on the PBS series, American Masters, the film screens Sunday at 2 p.m. as part of the Modern Dance Festival at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Bob Hercules, who directed A Good Man with Gordon Quinn, will participate in a Q&A afterward.
Because dance is inherently collaborative, Jones’ visionary zeal depends on others seeing it his way. This leads to confrontations with his dancers and the music composer for Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray, a commission by the Ravinia Festival to mark Lincoln’s bicentennial birthday. “Sometimes I wake up, and I think, ‘You’re not big enough to deal with Lincoln,’ ” Jones says.
But these doubts only fuel his outsized ambitions. Lincoln was the only white man he was allowed to love unconditionally growing up the son of black potato pickers. His research turns up a more complicated picture of the 16th president. “The ‘good man’ – what does he have to say to us today?” Jones asks in his typically interrogatory style. “Are we good people? Am I a good man?”