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‘Irreplaceable Dance Treasure’ and his company spend 12 weeks teaching UW Theatre and Dance students

Volume 13, Number 2 | January 2012
By Steve Kiggins

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Bill T. Jones by Christina Lane, courtesy Jacob Pillow Dance Festival On a fall day in 2010, University of Wyoming Theatre and Dance Department faculty members sat down to consider possibilities for the next Eminent Artist-in-Residence. “We asked ourselves, ‘If we could have anyone we wanted, who would we want?’” recalls Kathy Kirkaldie, coordinator of the UW Fine Arts Program. Margaret Wilson was quick with her answer: “I said I would give anything to bring in Bill T. Jones and the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company (BTJ/AZ).”

But would one of the United States’ most influential and popular dance artists, a man once named “An Irreplaceable Dance Treasure” by the Dance Heritage Coalition, come to the nation’s least populated state and a place known for rugged rodeo and not sophisticated dance?

Even Wilson says she considered it a “long shot.” But UW asked, anyway, and the answer surprised them. “Four hours after we said, ‘Could we ask Bill T. Jones?’ the company said yes,” Kirkaldie says. “We really were amazed.”

Less than a year later, the BTJ/AZ and two of the company’s teaching artists, Catherine Cabeen and Nicole Smith, had begun teaching classes and leading workshops as part of a 12-week residency. Jones himself was in Laramie for three days in October, working with students and teaching master classes.

The company’s residency culminated in November with Continuous Momentum: The Works of Bill T. Jones. Performed by UW students, the concert featured four pieces from the BTJ/AZ repertory: D-man in the Waters, Continuous Replay, Duet and Power/ful. A tour of the repertory concert included December performances in Riverton, Gillette, Torrington and Lusk.

“It’s been a very ambitious program—for us and for the wonderful faculty here in the Theatre and Dance Department,” Jones says. “We have been able to teach technique classes, visit composition classes and have general encounters with the student body and teachers. It’s been very rewarding.”

The Eminent Artist-in-Residence endowed professorship, established by the Wyoming State Legislature and funded by the Excellence in Higher Education Endowment, rotates annually among the departments of Art, Music and Theatre and Dance.

Jones followed Bill Bowers, a professional director, acclaimed Broadway actor and international mime sensation; David Carson, a graphic designer whose remarkable list of clients includes Quicksilver, MTV, Budweiser and Giorgio Armani; and Jennifer Higdon, a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer.

Described by Wilson as “arguably the most important choreographer of our time,” Jones has received abundant recognition for his body of work, ranging from a MacArthur “Genius” Award in 1994 to multiple Tony Awards to Kennedy Center Honors in 2010.

His company, born from an 11-year collaboration with Zane (1948-88), has redefined the duet form and foreshadowed issues of identity, form and social commentary that changed the face of American dance. The 10-member company has performed across the globe in more than 200 cities in 30 countries.

The company’s residency at UW will not soon be forgotten—particularly by students in the Department of Theatre and Dance whom Wilson says “understood the unique opportunity” and worked tirelessly to take advantage.

“I think the strongest indicator of the power of the residency was shown through our students,” says Wilson. “They really pushed themselves beyond what they thought they could do, which was exciting to see, and they learned the importance of Bill T. Jones as a choreographer in the history of modern dance. This experience will stay with them for a lifetime.”

To view Bill T. Jones’ interview on Wyoming Chronicle, a weekly Wyoming PBS program that features interviews with newsmakers, artists, innovative thinkers and unique Wyoming personalities, go to:
http://video.wyomingpbs.org/video/2167398202.

 

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