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The widely acclaimed Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company (BTJ/AZ) and company founder Bill T. Jones are the University of Wyoming Department of Theatre and Dance's 2011-2012 Eminent Artists-in-Residence.
The Eminent Artist-in-Residence endowed professorship, established by the Wyoming State Legislature and funded by the Excellence in Higher Education Endowment, rotates among the departments of Art, Music and Theatre and Dance annually.
"When we were thinking about who our next eminent artist should be, we sat down as a dance faculty and tossed out names. I said I would give anything to bring in Bill T. Jones and the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company," says UW dance faculty member Margaret Wilson, who has been working to bring the company to Wyoming.
"We really thought it was a long shot when we asked, but within four hours of us contacting the company, Bob Bursey, the producing director, had responded to us and was excited to come to work in Wyoming," says Wilson.
Widely recognized as one of the nation's most influential dance artists, Jones is a ground-breaking, multi-talented artist, choreographer, dancer, theater director, writer and tireless arts advocate. Named "An Irreplaceable Dance Treasure" by the Dance Heritage Coalition in 2000, Jones has received major honors for his vast body of work, ranging from a 1994 Macarthur "Genius" Award to 2010 Kennedy Center Honors to Tony Awards for his choreography on Broadway.
Now in its 29th year, BTJ/AZ was born out of 11-year collaboration between Jones and Zane (1948-1988). They redefined the duet form and foreshadowed issues of identity, form and social commentary that changed the face of American dance. The company emerged onto the international scene in 1983 with the world premiere of "Intuitive Momentum," which featured legendary drummer Max Roach, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Since then, the 10-member company has performed worldwide in more than 200 cities in 30 countries.
"This is really the most important dance company in the world right now, and Bill T. Jones is arguably the most important choreographer of our time," Wilson says. "His body of work ranges from historical reflection to political statement and exemplifies beautiful development of an artistic idea. His work is provocative and satisfying."
BTJ/AZ begins its program at UW in this month with a 12-week residency of two BTJ/AZ teaching artists, Catherine Cabeen and Nicole Smith. They will teach classes, lead workshops and help to set several BTJ/AZ repertory pieces for a concert later in the semester.
The BTJ/AZ Company will present the acclaimed dance work "Serenade/The Proposition" at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct.5, in the UW Arts & Sciences auditorium.
"The work is a reflection on Abraham Lincoln's legacy and the nature of history that draws from the Civil War era to examine how we talk to each other and to ourselves about the past," Wilson says.
A special screening of the new PBS American Masters documentary, "A Good Man," will be presented at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22, on the UW Fine Arts main stage. "A Good Man" follows Jones and his company for two tumultuous years as they create their most ambitious work to date, "Fondly Do We Hope . Fervently Do We Pray," an original dance-theater piece honoring Lincoln's bicentennial.
Jones will be in residency at UW Oct. 26-29, to work with students and to teach master classes. He will give the Eminent-Artist-in-Residence keynote speech at 4:10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28, in the UW Fine Arts concert hall.
The company's residency will culminate Nov. 15-20 with "Continuous Momentum: The Works of Bill T. Jones." Performed by UW students, the concert will feature four pieces from the BTJ/AZ repertory: "D-man in the Waters," "Continuous Replay," "Duet," and "Power/ful." A tour of the repertory concert is scheduled for Dec. 9-13, with performances tentatively scheduled in Torrington, Gillette, Sheridan, Lander, Riverton, Powell and Rock Springs.
"To do something this intense and long-ranging with our students, was very intriguing to the company and is a tremendous opportunity for us. It really is a dream residency and everything we could have hoped for," says Wilson.