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Skidmore College

Bill T. Jones on campus for McCormack residency events

October 22, 2009

Bill T. Jones has been internationally celebrated for his gift of bold, riveting dance, and for the many innovative dance works he has shared with the world. Over the years, the multi-talented artist, choreographer, dancer, theater director, and writer has been honored with a 1994 MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" and a 2007 Tony for choreographing the Broadway hit musical, Spring Awakening; and acknowledged by the Dance Heritage Coalition as one of America's Irreplaceable Dance Treasures. "Though his works are replete with striking beauty and emotional power," The Boston Globe noted in 2008, "he has made his mark with dances that rankle and push, ask questions, and often get to the very heart of who we are as human beings."

Named the 2009-10 McCormack Visiting Artist-Scholar at Skidmore, Jones will be in residence on campus Oct. 25-26, along with members of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, who will teach selected classes in dance technique, improvisation, dance history, and choreography from Oct. 25-29.

During the McCormack residency, Jones will work with students and faculty, and will deliver a lecture at 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 26, in Gannett Auditorium, Palamountain Hall. Free and open to the public, the lecture will be illustrated with video clips and followed by a question-and-answer session.   Jones will share his views on the massive political shift occasioned by the Lincoln and Obama presidencies and their impact on works of his own, including his recently premiered Fondly Do We Hope?Fervently Do We Pray. A dance-theater celebration of the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln seen through Jones's eyes, Fondly Do We Hope was one of three new works he created in honor of the 200 th anniversary of Lincoln's birth. A second work, titled Serenade/The Proposition, which incorporates spoken text from writings and speeches of Lincoln and his contemporaries, was viewed on DVD by incoming Skidmore students last summer as part of the College's Lincoln-themed 2009-10 First-Year Experience program.

As part of the residency, the four intermediate and advanced Skidmore dance classes to be taught by Jones company members will also be open to the public for observation.   The teachers will include Janet Wong, the company's associate artistic director, and dancers Leah Cox, LaMichael Leonard, and Shayla-Vie Jenkins. The classes will take place at 4 p.m. Monday, Oct. 26; at 3:40 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 27; at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 28; and at 3:40 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29. All will be conducted in Dance Studio II, in the College's Dance Center. Admission is free.

Jones, whose Skidmore ties include summer residencies in 1992, 1998, and 2007 and an honorary degree awarded in 2008, grew up in upstate New York, the 10th of 12 children in a family of migrant workers.   A high school track star interested in plays and musicals, he discovered dance in college when he met photographer and dancer Arnie Zane.

In 1982, Jones and Zane formed the dance company that was to become "a major force in contemporary dance," as Henry Louis Gates Jr. wrote in The New Yorker magazine. After Zane's death, Jones continued to create galvanizing new dance works, drawing freely and deeply on an array of avant-garde art forms including music and post-modern film, and collaborating with artists, writers, and musicians including Toni Morrison, Max Roach, Keith Haring, Jessye Norman, the Orion String Quartet, Jenny Holzer, and many others. Jones is the director and choreographer of his newest work, Fela!, a musical about the life of Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti, which will open on Broadway Nov. 23.

Many of Jones's best-known works employ spoken text and stage spectacle as well as dance movement to explore such powerful issues as race ( Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin/The Promised Land), political and moral concerns ( Blind Date), life and death ( D-Man in the Waters, Still/Here). In 2005, Jones received the Wexner Prize, given to artists who have been "consistently original, influential, and challenging toconvention."

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