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Artsy Crash Course

Major dance icon brings moves — and clout — to the University of Houston's new program

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Bill T. Jones choreographer dancer
Bill T. Jones inaugurates a new annual lecture series hosted by the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts. Photo by Lois Greenfield
Bill T. Jones choreographer dancer
The yearly Mitchell Artist Lecture pledges to spotlight a prominent figure that has championed artistic collaborations. Photo by Lois Greenfield
Bill T. Jones choreographer dancer
Among Jones' colleagues are American sculptor Louise Nevelson, feminist artist Kiki Smith, novelist Toni Morrison, opera star Jessye Norman and social activist Keith Haring. Photo by Stephanie Berger
Bill T. Jones choreographer dancer
Bill T. Jones choreographer dancer
Bill T. Jones choreographer dancer

Bill T. Jones who?

Don't feel like an ignoramus if his name doesn't immediately ring a bell. As generic as his surname may be, though, Jones is no ordinary man.

The 61-year-old artistic director, choreographer and dancer is a MacArthur Genius Award recipient, was named "An Irreplaceable Dance Treasure" by the Dance Heritage Coalition and holds honorary doctorates from The Juilliard School, Yale University and Columbia College. More recently, Jones won a Tony for Best Choreography for his contribution to Fela!, was inducted into the national Museum of Dance's Hall of Fame and was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honor in 2010.

 Art lovers, Bill T. Jones is a big deal. Dance fiends, you already know this. 

Art lovers, Bill T. Jones is a big deal. Dance fiends, you already know this and are probably rolling your eyes at the rest of us.

The dance icon is slated to inaugurate a new annual lecture series hosted by the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts at the University of Houston, set for 7 p.m. Thursday at the Moores Opera House.

The yearly Mitchell Artist Lecture pledges to spotlight a prominent figure that has championed artistic collaborations, a cross-disciplinary concept that fuels the nonprofit's mission through sponsored performances, residencies and workshops across University of Houston's School of Art, Moores School of Music, School of Theatre and Dance, Creative Writing Program and Blaffer Art Museum.

Among Jones' colleagues are American sculptor Louise Nevelson, feminist artist Kiki Smith, novelist Toni Morrison, opera star Jessye Norman and social activist Keith Haring. His works have been presented by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Boston Ballet, Houston Grand Opera and Lyon Opera Ballet.

We've collected five videos to deliver a crash course on Bill T. Jones:

1. Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane Dance Company rehearse Story/Time (2012)

In this rare, behind-the-scenes video, you can appreciate how Jones develops his fluid movement vocabulary during a working rehearsal. Pay close attention to the melding of styles and the imagery evoked by the strong gestures.

2. Bill T. Jones discusses Story/Time

In this video, Jones discusses the importance of storytelling in his body of work. Story/Time, inspired by the music of American avant-garde John Cage, posed an interesting dilemma for Jones: How to balance his need to acknowledge his audience with John Cage's focus on creation and composition, an approach that can alienate viewers.

3. Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane Dance Company rehearse Ravel

The mere mention of French Impressionistic composers conjures sensual, colorful images matched by the movement's visual art counterparts. In a way, the choreography of Jones combines components of music and visual art. You can decide if his aesthetic aligns or contrasts with preconceived notions of what Impressionism, in this case, may imply.

4. Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane Dance Company Body Against Body trailer

When artists use the term "against" in their titles, there's an implication of strife that occurs when seemingly independent elements react to one another. This reel of Body Against Body shows original footage of an early performance juxtaposed with a more recent revival in 2011. You may be surprised when the dancers speak as part of the work.

5. Play and Play: an evening of movement and music

Now that you've seen bits and pieces of how Jones' artistry comes together, this final video offers a look at dance excerpts in their final form — costumed, staged and lit in the way they were intended to be experienced.

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