Dance of the Disciples

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Five choreographers pay tribute to Bill T. Jones

By Valerie Gladstone

"He stands for so much politically, emotionally and visually," says dancer choreography Heidi Latsky iin praise of Bill T. Jones of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company. "He came along in the late '70s and broke all kinds of rules. He's brilliant and daring. His works resonate in the dance world."

On the 30th anniversary of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, Latsky, Arthur Aviles and Catherine Cabeen, former members of the troupe, and David Parker, the founder and director of The Bang Company, and Maureen Whiting, director of the Maureen Whiting Company, will honor Jones with "Five Choreographers at Baruch," a series of performances at the Baruch Performing Arts Center June 25-29.

It would be hard for anyone in the performing arts over the past 30 years not to count Jones as an influence. A MacArthur "genius" grant winner, he has dealt with gay rights, AIDS, racism and many other tough subjects in highly charged dances packed with powerful movement. Moreover he has also choreographed for opera, theater and television, won innumerable awards in the dance and theater worlds, and continues to revolutionize dance as a leader of New York Live Arts organization.

Latsky, a member of the Jones/Zane company from 1987-1993, credits Jones with giving her an understanding of the value of stillness in dance, and by giving her, as a dancer, grounded and emotional movement to perform.

At the Baruch Center, she will present two pieces, "Solo Countersolo" and "Somewhere," the latter a series of dances to various versions of the song, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Inspired by Jones, Latsky has, since 2006, included disabled dancers in many of her works, most noteworthy, "Gimp" explaining why dance should be inclusive: "Bill felt no trepidation about including people of all backgrounds, shapes and sizes in his company," she says. In Jones fashion this piece features four disabled performers, who make the song sing through their bodies.

Cabeen, the director of Hyphen Dance Company, performed with the Jones/Zane troupe from 1997-2005 and now sets Jones' works on companies all over the country. She will present two pieces, one of them the formal and ornate "Five Windows," with the oud player, Kane Mathis. Aviles, a member of the company from 1987-1995 and the co-founder of the Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance (BAAD). He has not only devoted himself to choreographing but also to giving the Puerto Rican, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities a place to work and create - an outgrowth of Jones dedication to the disenfranchised. To celebrate his mentor, he will present the joyous "Cumpeanos Feliz,"named for a traditional Spanish birthday song.

Seattle-based choreographer Whiting thinks that simply being aware of what Jones was doing in the '80s, affected her. "No one had been so politically active in dance as Bill," she says. "It changed completely how everyone thought of contemporary dance." He is also noted for his theatricality, and her work, "belly," in the upcoming tribute, follows in that line.

Parker didn't dance with Jones but he was deeply influenced by him too. "I love his mixture of formal and dry and how highly charged his works are," he says. Parker's witty pieces share a formality, clear in his new dances for the Baruch engagement, entitled "Unbridled" and "Groomed." "None of us would have dared so much without Bill's example."

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