Choreographer Bill T. Jones Goes After Censorship in Lecture at Carpenter Center

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Choreographer Bill T. Jones

Choreographer Bill T. Jones, 2009. Photo by Russell Jenkins

The multi-talented artist, choreographer, dancer, theater director and writer Bill T. Jones will speak at The Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center on the campus of Cal State Long Beach on Friday, September 21 at 1pm. Jones will discuss his landmark piece Reading, Mercy and the Artificial Nigger, a work inspired by a Flannery O’Conner short story that Jones created in 2003. The lecture will also include his thoughts on how his art is portrayed in the media, his own experiences with censorship and public responses to his controversial works of art.

“Bill T. Jones is one of the leading choreographers to challenge social norms within his art,” said Carpenter Center Executive Director Michele Roberge. “His lecture will give insight to his personal artistic process and experiences. It will be an unprecedented event for Carpenter Center.”

The free public lecture comes in anticipation of the Southern California premieres of Jones’ Reading, Mercy and the Artificial Nigger and companion pieceMercy 10 x 8 on a Circle. The works will be performed by CSULB students on November 16 and 17 at 8pm at the Carpenter Center.  Working in collaboration with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company Education Department, the finest dancers from the CSULB Department of Dance were selected to perform the works, which transcend boundaries as they mix dance, literature, and theater to address issues of race.  The evening will also include three premiere works by noted CSULB faculty choreographers—Gerald Casel, Sophie Monat, and Andrew Vaca. 

“This project is ambitious in terms of scale and content—this will be the first performance of these works by dancers outside of the Company.  We are thrilled to be realizing it here, with CSULB’s dance department and the Carpenter Center.  The issues that are addressed in these works are eternal ones, applicable not only to the divide between blacks and whites, but also to divisions and double standards we see surfacing in today’s society between Hispanics and whites, immigrants and U.S. citizens,” says Leah Cox, Education Director of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and former dancer with the Company.  Cox was one of the original cast members of Reading, Mercy, and the Artificial Nigger, and is reconstructing the work in conjunction with past and present Company members Stuart Singer and Shayla-Vie Jenkins.

Both the lecture and performances are part of The B-Word Project—Banned, Blacklisted and Boycotted: Censorship and the Response to It at CSULB, an 18-month campus-wide initiative led by Carpenter Center that consists of performances and other activities to stimulate wide-ranging discussions that examine what happens when a voice—whether in artistic endeavors, journalism, scientific research or other areas—is stifled through governmental, commercial, or social restraints.  The B-WORD Project is made possible by a Creative Campus Innovations Grant from the Association of Performing Arts Presenters funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

Bill T. Jones is the recipient of the 2010 Kennedy Center Honors; a 2010 Tony Award for Best Choreography of the critically acclaimed FELA!; a 2007 Tony Award, 2007 Obie Award, and 2006 Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation CALLAWAY Award for his choreography for Spring Awakening; the 2010 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award; the 2007 USA Eileen Harris Norton Fellowship; the 2006 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Choreography for The Seven; the 2005 Wexner Prize; the 2005 Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement; the 2005 Harlem Renaissance Award; the 2003 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize; and the 1994 MacArthur “Genius” Award.  In 2000, The Dance Heritage Coalition named Mr. Jones “An Irreplaceable Dance Treasure.”

Mr. Jones choreographed and performed worldwide with his late partner, Arnie Zane, before forming the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company in 1982.  He has created more than 140 works for his company.  In 2011, Mr. Jones was named Executive Artistic Director of New York Lives Arts, an organization that strives to create a robust framework in support of the nation’s dance and movement-based artists through new approaches to producing, presenting and educating.

Tickets to the lecture on September 21 are free, and reserved seating tickets to the November 16 and 17 performances of In Collaboration: Bill T. Jones and CSULB Department of Dance performance are on sale for $25.  Tickets are available at or by calling the CSULB Arts Ticket Office at 562-985-7000. Discounts for seniors, students and groups are available, call for details. This presentation is made possible in part by Season Media Partner KPCC 89.3FM.

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