Archive for November, 2011

Bill T. Jones with a portrait of Lincoln/Photo courtesy Kartemquin Flims

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?”

Scenes from 'Fondly Do We Hope...Fervently Do We Pray'/Photos by Paul Goode

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Performing artists are always looking for ways to break down the barriers between the work they’re making and those who come see it. Installations that take dancers off the stage and into the crowd are one method. Muscle Memory Dance Theatre and Ghost Town Arts Collective have collaborated on such a project, You Will Know When You Are There: A Journey in Art and Modern Dance, a combination gallery show/installation/performance culminating over the next two nights at Life in Deep Ellum.

The idea started with Meghan Cardwell-Wilson, a member of both groups, says Muscle Memory co-artistic director Lesley Snelson. Snelson, Muscle Memory co-artistic director Amy L. Sleigh and Cardwell-Wilson joined with Ghost Town members Heidi Rushing, Liz Elsberg and Jean Roelke around the broad theme of an introspective journey. “The subject of this event,” according to the press release, “is transformation and myth: processes that twist and turn, taking us somewhere … a place that is unknown until arrival. You will know when you are there.”

With each group playing off of the other, Snelson says, the visual artists designed and built an installation inside the performance space, and the choreographers created a 40-minute dance piece that interacts with the objects. The action takes place off the stage at floor level, but the audience will be seated – a concession to sight lines. Muscle Memory is accustomed to collaborating. “Pilot,” their annual concert of new work by emerging choreographers, has been a success in bringing public attention to young artists.

A gallery exhibition of works by Ghost Town has been up at Life in the Deep Ellum since Oct. 10 and a reception and dance preview was held Oct. 15. This weekend, gallery doors open at 7 p.m., with performances at 8.