Bill T Jones /AZ Company, “What a Problem” for Joinville Dance Competition in Brazil© Nilson Bastin


William Tass Jones – Bill The Jones

By Geovana Peres


Last July, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company was back to Brazil after more than 10 years of their last visit in the country. The contemporary dance company directed by Bill T. Jones or his birth name William Tass Jones, is called after one of the notable, recognized modern-dance choreographers and directors of our time. The company presented at the Joinville Dance Festival – the biggest dance festival in the world – a famous piece “What Problem”. It’s about the tension between belonging to a community and the feeling of isolation that many in these divisive political times perceive.  The company arrived in São Paulo where they had the opportunity to get know Ballet from Paraisopolis and Monica Tarrago, who  is in charge of a social dance project that transforms young talents realities from the one of the big “guetos” in Brazil through the dance. During these days I had the pleasant opportunity to interview Bill T Jones and talk more about his work and the dance company.

© Nilson Bastin

Please tell us about your start and most notable memory in your dance life?

When I was in university as an athlete, my wish was to become an actor. But everything that I knew about it was connected with Broadway. Since I had the first time contact with African dance class, there I felt the real meaning of emotional nature. This experience made me so curious, that I went to a modern dance class, and the impression never leave me. There was really a very liberalize education that made me happy.

What is your dance language based on? How do you create for the Company?

My dancers are often my inspiration, the movement, their trainings, their background, and how we mostly make our work.

What does it mean post modern dance in your opinion?

Post modern dance is less about style but more about concept, conception, time, space, objects, meaning and associated with literature or philosophy. But when we translate into the body and in New York Live Arts, we call it “in body investigation”, than we have a lot of material and strands.

You say and bring a lot about “poetry and politics” in your creations, could you tell me how these conceptions are connected?

Let’s just move a little away from dance, because the earliest political performance I’ve saw was my mom praying on the Christmas morning. She was praying in old fashion way, this was a secret event so we had to be a very quite listening. She began to sing and chat and she was going to more and more associations asking God to help. But it went from a very personal thing, that suddenly got into expanded thing. To me, that was because her experience as an African woman in the society, her expression got so pushed down, and when she was angry, these moments was powerful and full of expression. So poetry, she was protesting her life on earth. Finally, this explains where I look for in the dance perform.
It comes from this experience, shouting things but also full of pain and anger. The dancers sometimes don’t think about it, but just their faces say so many things. Maybe they are just doing what they have been told, but it means so much more indeed.

Along your career, as a dancer what did you notice as the most essential learning? How was it for you as a black man, having raised the art and dance flag on the 70th?

I don’t think I could do what I did without a white man – my partner Arnie Zane, who encouraged me to find a voice, to find what I wanted, to do how I want to do it. I think I was also fortunately, because there was government money that allowed me to go to the university. There I met Arnie Zane and got the opportunity to get know the dance field.

Bill T Jones /AZ Company, “What a Problem” © Nilson Bastin

What have you noticed the most essential learning?

The first thing is: what is an idea, how is an idea, different and similar to a feeling and can an idea be developed? How do you actually master something? Even for nature movers, that is very important. The second thing I should say: how to accept criticism because personally I don’t deal with it very well (laughing).

How came your passion for the modern and contemporary dance? What do you see that makes your eyes bright by it?

Contemporary is a really large category, what was in 1920,1980 and nowadays is completely different. I don’t think I was naturally gifted as a classical ballet dancer, I started very late when I was 19 years old and I didn’t sow any dance performance before. I was easily impressed by contemporary dance and have discovered the multiplicity of a room. I was hungry looking around, falling in love with so many things and I knew, my generation had lot of possibilities to express themself through dance.

Do you consider being a choreographer with a specific language or your creation process is very open and flexible by other factors?

Because of my insecurities I create less and less, I say to my dancers to extend my life in towards, the process creation. Other tool that I usually use, is to ask people to solve problems. The post modern world and people’s creativity comes into it, and if you record this you can catch whole bunch of things, you can reproduce it as a vocabulary. I think I’m a good collaborator and I always look forward to involving other people who are working with me. Of course, the dancers have to be  perceptive, smart to give and to receive the information.

Do you believe in the power of dance transformation with your work?

I don’t know about the power of transformation, I don’t know if I could change anything anymore. You reach a point that you repeat yourself and then you are rebelling and retry… repeating yourself, you get comfortable. I ask different questions to avoid repeating myself and maybe to still plant something for this world. I’m really a questioner.

What would be the most important thing for you nowadays if you would create some new work for the dance?

I think, I always challenged myself to do something new not just to some specific public, but again to a public that is able to receive the proposal of our work.

Bill The Jones Dance Company had presented their very American work in front of almost 6.000 people in Joinville, Brazil. This was really a shock for most of the people present because we could see what Bill The Jones says when he talks about “make on the stage politics and poetry”. His creation “What a problem” was just plenty of different feelings and discomforts but full of meaning and reflections. The fact that Bill The Jones is on the stage full time speaking to the public, telling the story, is really fantastic and gives the performance life and another understanding.