Legendary Inspiration

Bill T. Jones coaches dance students who will perform his work

Photo: Mike Peters

Bill T. Jones

For a dancer, few experiences compare to being coached in a dance by the famous choreographer who actually created it. That rare occasion recently occurred when the MacArthur “Genius” Award-winning choreographer Bill T. Jones came to the Montclair State University campus in November to coach dance students who will be performing his work, Spent Days Out Yonder, at the April 2014 Danceworks concert.

“There’s no substitute for having the person who made the dance come up to students and manipulate bodies in rehearsal,” says Theatre and Dance professor Neil Baldwin, who conducted a post-rehearsal interview with Jones. “He makes an indelible impression on the students with his tremendous physical presence. It’s galvanizing.”

This is the third year Jones, who enjoys a longstanding and productive relationship with the University, has visited campus to coach student dancers in his work.

“Approximately 25 dance majors attended,” notes Lori Katterhenry, who is the artistic director for the Montclair State University Repertory Dance Company as well as the director of dance for the University’s Division of Dance. “Most were in the dance, but some attended as spectators.”

“Bill T. Jones has come to Montclair State time and time again, yet he never ceases to educate and amaze us,” says senior Crystal Rodriguez, who has been coached by Jones during each of his visits. “It’s apparent that he truly cares for his work as well as for the community that is learning his work. I feel blessed to have been exposed to his presence and wisdom.”

Jones, who received Kennedy Center Honors in 2010, is an iconic figure in the world of modern dance. “He is one of the most renowned and widely respected modern choreographers in dance today,” states Katterhenry. He is also an inspiration to University dancers.

“Working with Bill three years in a row has been an amazing experience,” says Tywan Bynum. “He makes me want to be a better dancer and a better person.”

Senior Jacob Deibert explains that Jones has taught him valuable lessons about both dance and life in general. “My sophomore year, Bill taught me how to develop the will to survive and achieve my goals while rehearsing the thrilling D-Man in the Waters. My junior year, he taught me when and how to support a group in the improvisational-based work Continuous Replay,” he says. “This year he has taught me to maintain my individualism while adapting to the integrity of movement in the precise Spent Days Out Yonder.”

Set to the second movement of Mozart’s String Quartet No. 23 in F Major, Spent Days Out Yonder explores the relationship between movement and music. “One of the great things about Jones is how he juxtaposes modern movement with romantic music,” says Baldwin.

Students are double-cast for the work after a rigorous screening process. Former Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company member Ayo Jackson and current company member I-Ling-Liu worked with the students. “They spend hours and hours with them before Jones comes to campus,” says Baldwin. Adjunct dance professor Jessica DiMauro will continue to work with the cast as interim director after Jones and his group have set the piece. “We of course hope he’ll come to the April performance. He’s always welcome,” Baldwin adds.

The Tony Award-winning choreographer clearly values his time at the University. “It’s my privilege and their privilege. Montclair State has earned that privilege for me to do this. This is a privileged position for both of us. It means this department is important,” Jones told Baldwin in November. “I’m coming out here on my Saturday and I’m going to try to give you the best that I have at that moment. What am I feeling – what am I thinking – at that moment.”

Rodriguez agrees. “Bill T. Jones expressed that visiting our dance department was a privilege for us and for him. That couldn’t be more true.”

See more photos at Flickr.com.

Watch Neil Baldwin’s interview with Bill T. Jones at YouTube.