Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

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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New York City Ballet dancers in scene from "NY Export: Opus Jazz"/Photo courtesy Bar/Suozzi Productions

From musicals like Chicago to TV programs such as Great Performances, dance has enjoyed a place on the big and small screen for decades. In more recent years, Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance have drawn sizable audiences for a commercialized version of the art form. But that increasing interest doesn’t seem to have helped put many butts in the seats at live concert-dance performances. The reason may be as simple as our long-running, ongoing economic downturn making it hard for the average fan to afford tickets.

One answer to dance’s difficulties may be Screendance, a growing movement the treats filmed choreography as an end unto itself. One of the best recent examples is NY Export: Opus Jazz (2010), a quasi-narrative that coolly and cleverly re-imagines Jerome Robbins‘ 1958 ballet of the same name. The 41-minute film screens at 9:45 p.m. this Thursday, Sept. 22, on the patio of the Angelika as part of the Dallas VideoFest. (I’ll be introducing it.)

Populated by a street-styled cast of limber youngsters from New York City Ballet – where the idea to adapt Opus Jazz originated with dancers Ellen Bar and Sean Suozzi – the hard surfaces and dessicated locales of urban abandonment become the setting for Robbins’ athletic and expressive group numbers. Coming off of West Side Story, he had decided to tell another teen-jungle story for a State Department world tour, but one that left impressions rather than used a spelled-out plot.

Directors Jody Lee Lipes and Henry Joost handle the skeletal narrative with no dialogue per se, only barely audible overheard conversation as if the audience were eavesdropping.