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Brash and bruised

Bill T. Jones sought to expand the language of modern dance with tough topicality. In person, he doesn't soften his punch.

March 27, 2005|Diane Haithman | Times Staff Writer

Aviles is not the only one to note that Jones can be contrary. Village Voice dance editor Elizabeth Zimmer, author of a book on the Jones/Zane partnership, acknowledges his occasional defensiveness. Zimmer is, by the way, not a big fan of "Still/Here"; one of her favorite pieces is Jones' provocatively titled "Reading, Mercy and the Artificial Nigger," based on the story "The Artificial Nigger" by Southern writer Flannery O'Connor. Initially offended by O'Connor's title and subject, Jones decided to reinvent the story of a white grandfather and grandson and their bizarre encounter with a plaster figure of a black boy by using color- and gender-blind casting. The work, performed to a reading of the story, is scheduled to be on the programs in Riverside and San Francisco.

"I did a piece on Bill a couple of years ago for Dance Magazine, and he was really aggressive with me," Zimmer says. "I wanted to say: 'I don't need this. I just want to write this story!' But I think he feels that he doesn't have a lot of time. He's been HIV-positive for several decades.... He just doesn't have time to waste, he doesn't have time to mess around. He wants to be taken as seriously as Paul Taylor is taken seriously, as Merce Cunningham is taken seriously.

"I've known Bill for almost 30 years. He's been through a lot. He's been misinterpreted by the press. You want to call it a chip? Yeah. He has a chip on his shoulder."

Not a big enough chip, though, to prevent him from risking it all again on "The Phantom Project: Still/Here Looking On."

"I couldn't resist it, because I thought I hadn't gotten it out of my system," he observes thoughtfully. "But I couldn't return to it the way it was. There had to be a reason why I was returning, and that reason was it was going to be a kind of bridge that connects the strands of life.

"It is a piece that people remember as if there were no before or after, and that's not true."

"After" has actually been pretty good for Jones. These days, he professes to be more interested in spirituality than in politics. He has a new companion, sculptor Bjorn Amelan, who also serves as associate artistic director and set designer for the company. Amelan was formerly the partner of fashion designer Patrick Kelly, who died of complications from AIDS in 1990.

"I think a serious artist is probably at some level driven, with a lot of demons. But I'm in love, I enjoy a good drink, I like children," Jones says. "I don't feel like a tragic figure. I'm not.

"Arnie was my collaborator. We formed a company together. This is about the company, and us as artists, and love, all right? It just so happened that it was between two men. The company is a child that he and I had. The company has been around probably longer than Arnie and I were together, and that's what it should be.

"When we started working together, they said, 'They're putting their relationship onstage.' What I'm trying to get at is what it feels like to make art, no matter what they say or even, in some ways, what you feel. You keep going."

Do you know Bill T. Jones? You should.

"That's the resistance you feel in me. I don't want to be talked to like other people. I am me for a reason," he asserts. "Arnie Zane and I -- there was no one like us before, and no one like us afterward, right?

"I'm talking about a certain kind of honesty that comes from understanding the world. That's why I'm still here."


Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company

Where: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday

Price: $20 to $50

Contact: (213) 365-3500 or

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