CONTACT: WINSTON BARCLAY
100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0073; fax (319) 384-0024
Release: Oct. 20. 2000
A YEAR AFTER THE MILLENNIUM (FESTIVAL)
Bill T. Jones calls Hancher Millennium Festival 'a
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Bill T. Jones took stock of his provocative
career in the world premiere of "The Breathing Show -- Bill T. Jones
Solo," on Oct. 23, 1999, as part of Hancher Auditoriums Millennium
Festival at the University of Iowa. Now, a year later, after dancing the work
throughout the United States and Europe, he has paused to take stock of the
Millennium Festival, which was the most extensive and ambitious performing-arts
millennium celebration in the United States.
"I feel that Hancher Auditorium with its Millennium
Festival has become a guiding light to the performing arts of this era because
of its commitment to commissioning," Jones says. "Both artists and
presenters are beleaguered and anxious about the scarcity of resources. The
concerns of marketing in order to increase sales and attendance often overshadow
the vital activity of creating new works.
"Hancher has proven itself expert at turning a community
on to the experience of live performance and now, it is making that same community
an arena wherein new works come into existence. I call this visionary and
supremely reasonable. I feel privileged to have been allowed to have an ongoing
dialogue with the Johnson County community. There are few places where I feel
so understood in terms of the depth and breadth of my interests and output,
thanks to Hanchers commitment to commissioning my works."
Jones rarely performed in the years leading to "The
Breathing Show," working instead primarily as a choreographer and artistic
director. Jones stated intention for "The Breathing Show"
was to revisit his roots as a dancer: He has described "The Breathing
Show" as "taking a big step back to the time when I was 19 and a
young dancer who wanted to fly." The work combined movement, film and
spoken text to "take a breath" at a crossroads in Jones artistic
At the point of the Hancher premiere, Jones still considered
the piece a work in progress with which he was far from satisfied, and he
recorded his personal response in a journal that was later excerpted in the
New York Times.
"After the show, I am prostrate on the dressing room
floor," he wrote in a section headlined "Oct. 23. Hancher Auditorium,
Iowa City " "The premiere finished minutes ago and I am pondering
the dilemma I find myself in: There is no personal payoff in this sequence
of events, no catharsis, no orgasm. Without my glasses I couldnt tell,
but I hear the audience jumped to its feet at the end of the Mozart. And yet,
I am still asking, where is my satisfaction."
A few days later in New York, responding to a negative
assessment of the piece by the director of Lincoln Center, he mused, "Ive
always believed that any action done with a sufficient level of consciousness
and commitment is never wasted. However, can I afford emotionally or professionally
to have my most essential aspect, my own performance, suffer such devaluation?
I dont think so. What are my options? Cancel the show? Impossible and
cowardly. Rework the existing material even though we are beginning a demanding
tour? This is the only option."
He took this challenge to Rome and Milan, Italy; London,
England; Leverkusen, Germany; and Amsterdam, Holland, before returning to
the United States for engagements in Berkeley and
Los Angeles, Calif.; Lawrence, Kan.; Boston, Mass.; Lincoln, Neb.; Newark
and Princeton, NJ; Washington, DC and Chicago, Ill. The tour concluded in
New York at Lincoln Center.
By the end of November in Italy, after several emotional
ups and downs, he wrote optimistically in response to the changes he had made:
"After the Hancher Auditorium premiere of The Breathing Show,
I was depressed and despairing at just how unsatisfied I had felt with the
evening. Now, having injected songs, ad-libbed transitions, more of my personality,
I feel more complete at the end of each show. More satisfied."
The English website Criticaldance.com commented on his
London performances, "The show tries to give us some sense of what it
is like to be the charming, intelligent and gifted Mr. Jones, and it achieves
this successfully and with much elegance."
The critic of Ballet Magazine found the work "makeshift
and unstructured," but also wrote, "Although he has a strong muscular
look -- his arms are particularly sculptured -- he dances easily with gentle
undulating movements and yet which are almost robot-like at times. There is
great warmth about it all and one feels almost hypnotized by the poses. And
he uses his eyes on you too! Very magnetic and charismatic."
Jones has forged one of the most celebrated and controversial
careers in contemporary dance, often developing ambitious projects that unflinchingly
confronted personal issues of race, faith, sexual orientation and disease.
In 1994 Jones was honored with a MacArthur Foundation
"genius grant," and among his many other honors are National Endowment
for the Arts fellowships, "Bessie" Awards and the Dance Magazine
Award. In 1995 he published the memoir "Last Night on Earth."
Iowa has played a prominent role in Jones creative
life. Residencies at the Cedar Arts Forum in Waterloo/Cedar Falls and at the
UI led to a series of Hancher commissions, including "The Last Supper
at Uncle Toms Cabin/The Promised Land" and "Still/Here."
"Still/Here," which addressed the challenges of living with terminal
illness, was based on "survival workshops" conducted in Iowa City
and several other locations around the country. The images and words of Iowans
facing life-threatening illnesses played a prominent role in the production,
which received its U.S. premiere in Hancher. The project was the subject of
a PBS special by Bill Moyers, partially videotaped at the UI.
Hanchers season-spanning Millennium Festival featured
more than 20 major commissions in music, theater and dance. The commission
of "The Breathing Show -- Bill T. Jones Solo" was supported by Gerald
J. and Sandra G. Eskin, through the University of Iowa Foundation, and by
the National Endowment for the Arts.