World-renowned choreographer Bill T. Jones, a BU alum, returned to Binghamton University this past weekend for a performance with his dance troupe, the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company. They staged a piece titled “Play and Play: An Evening of Movement and Music” at the Osterhout Concert Theater in the Anderson Center, and the event was held as part of the programming for BU’s Homecoming Weekend.
The company’s performance was divided into three parts, the first accompanied by a four-piece string orchestra and the latter two accompanied by an eight-piece group. Characteristic to Jones’ other work, each piece utilized repetitive motions woven into elegant, yet often frenetic modern dance, and each work appeared to have a political undertone to it — much of Jones’ work is based off issues pertaining to racism and homophobia and his own experiences as a black man and a member of the LGBTQ community.
The second piece, titled “Continuous Replay,” based on a solo work of Zane’s from 1977, brought dancers onstage completely nude, dancing in unison and hissing at the audience as though to portray some kind of malicious intent. The third, “D-Man in the Waters,” painted a different scene: Members of the company appeared onstage in militant costumes and spent most of the movement euphorically dancing across the stage, interspersed with moments of profound sadness, with dancers moving in harsh bursts as though hanging on for their lives.
Having won two Tony Awards for the choreography of “Fela!” and “Spring Awakening,” as well as a MacArthur “Genius” Grant, Kennedy Center Honors and a National Medal of Arts, Jones is considered to be one of the University’s most prominent alumni in the arts. This weekend, he was able to add another honor to the list: Prior to the beginning of the company’s performance, he appeared onstage with President Harvey Stenger to receive the University Medal, the highest award that BU bestows.
Though the performance was open to students and community members, BU alumni were particularly impressed with the talent that had been brought back to the University.
“I didn’t even know he was associated with Binghamton, but then I saw some of his work, and then I found out through [documentary ‘Finding Fela!’], and I was like, ‘How come I don’t know this through Binghamton?’” said Justin Hoch, ‘04, about Jones. “It was a really big thing; I was really jazzed that they brought him in.”
The next morning, a brunch was held in Jones’ honor in the Old Union Hall, in which he spoke to members of the BU community — a mix of about 50 alumni, students and faculty were present to learn more about Jones’ history with the University and ask him questions in an intimate setting. Upon arriving to the event, Jones rejected speaking behind a podium to the attendees and instead chose to sit at the edge of the stage, encouraging alumni to pull up chairs close to him.
Throughout his discussion with the attendees, he highlighted how attending BU deeply impacted both his career and his personal life. The University would quickly become the place where Jones met his late partner, Arnie Zane, who would help him create the American Dance Asylum, a modern dance group that would address social issues such as racism and homophobia.
“There was love, there was beauty and there was, ‘We are going to live the way we want to live. We’re going to love who we want to love,’” Jones said. He then recounted the story of how he met Zane, and how he had been given the space at the University to let his relationship grow.
“That all happened here,” he said. “ It just seemed like that’s what you could do … this was a place where you could explore your identity.”
For Valerie Hampton, BU’s chief diversity officer, having Jones on campus was a good reflection of the diversity of BU students.
“[Jones] represents the quality of students that we invite and that turn into alumni that remind us how wonderful of an experience this can be on our campus,” Hampton said. “His authenticity with who he is, and how he moves in the world, is a perfect example of what we hope to be sharing with students and how they walk through their educational experience with us.”