Ravinia Festival Commissions Major Work from Bill T. Jones

Classic Arts News   Ravinia Festival Commissions Major Work from Bill T. Jones
 
The Ravinia Festival has commissioned choreographer Bill T. Jones to create a new dance-theater piece on the subject of Abraham Lincoln. The full-evening work, to be performed by the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and tentatively titled A Good Man, will be a centerpiece of the Chicago-area summer festival's 2009 season, which will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the 16th President's birth.

Jones and Ravinia Festival president Welz Kauffman announced the commission this morning in a press conference, held in front of Lincoln's own death bed at the Chicago History Museum.

"Bicentennial celebrations by their very definition are about a single moment in time," said Kauffman, "but any artistic celebration of the great Abraham Lincoln requires something truly timeless. That's why we sought out Bill T. Jones."

For his part, Jones said, "I live with the uneasy feeling that society has shaped me as a result of something that was stolen from us when Abraham Lincoln was killed. The cynicism and alienation that I have to cope with in my own head and heart arose as a result of a climate built systematically by such a strange turn of destiny as his assassination ... I want to create a dance theater work that investigates a handful of key moments from his remarkable life and subject them to a process whereby song and memory deliver us beyond the boundaries of space and time.

"The image of Abraham Lincoln's long, broken body stretched across what was to become his death bed will be at the heart of the work," the choreographer said about his idea for A Good Man. "I wonder about the paradise our country could have been if Lincoln had lived to complete the reconstruction of America, but which we are only left to imagine."

Jones and his late partner Zane founded their company in 1982, and over the past 25 years they have appeared in more than 200 cities all over the world, winning awards and headlines the entire way. Jones himself has garnered everything from Tony and Obie Awards (this past season, for the Broadway hit Spring Awakening) to a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" and a Time magazine cover (both in 1994). Among his and his company's best-known works are Chapel/Chapter, Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin/The Promised Land and Blind Date — as well as Still/Here, which inspired what is probably the single most controversial piece of dance journalism ever written in English, a New Yorker essay by Arlene Croce that gave birth to the phrase "victim art."

Ravinia will present an entire series of programs examining Lincoln and his legacy at the 2009 festival — a series presented under the title "Mystic Chords of Memory," a phrase the 16th president used in his first inaugural address (see quote below). Among other projects, the 2009 Ravinia season will feature 10 commissioned chamber music works (funded in part by a grant from the Illinois Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission) setting or somehow incorporating Lincoln's own words.


"The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

— Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address

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