Sean Curran visits Rockland to celebrate choreographer Bill T. Jones

Opera theater

by Juliana Roth

“It goes to the very heart of the vital role art plays in our society in times of social crisis,” says Henry Louis Gates Jr. of the new documentary Can you bring it: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the waters. In 1988, Arnie Zane, partner and co-director of Jones, died of AIDS-related lymphoma and the future of the company was called into question. Faced with crippling grief, Rockland County artist Bill T. Jones decided to keep the business alive. Now choreographed on his own, he has turned to creating a new dance using moving images of water and wave action.

The Rivertown Film Society screen the film in the garden of the Edward Hopper House Museum & Study Center on July 17 (rain date July 18) at 8:30 p.m. EST, joined by Seán Curran, who is known for his performance work with Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Dance Company, for which he received a “Bessie” award for his role in Secret pastures, and as an original member of the New York cast of STOP! Advance sales for the screening of the film are encouraged. Ticket holders can arrive at 8 p.m. EST for a Q&A with Curran hosted by Myrna Packer of Packer Bridgman Dance. The live event is a first for the film company since February 2020, just weeks before the pandemic closed operations.

Bill T. Jones is a multi-talented artist, choreographer, dancer, director and writer, and associate artist for Holland Festival 2020. He has received major accolades including the 2016 Human Rights Campaign Visibility Award. man, the 2013 National Medal of the Arts, a MacArthur “Genius” Award in 1994 and the Kennedy Center Honors in 2010. Mr. Jones received the 2014 Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, recognized as an Officer of the Order of the Arts and Letters by the French government in 2010, inducted into the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2009 and named “An Irreplaceable Dance Treasure” by the Dance Heritage Coalition in 2000. His adventures in the Broadway theater culminated in a 2010 Tony Award for Best Choreography in the critically acclaimed film FELA! and won a 2007 Tony Award for Best Choreography in Spring awakening as well as an Obie Award for the show’s 2006 off-Broadway run.

The documentary explores not only Jones’ artistry, but the importance of remembering history and the elders who came before him in social movements. In the film, viewers watch a group of young dancers re-enact Jones’ dance. As they learn the movements, they deepen their understanding of the power of art in a time of plague and how the Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane company was at the forefront of it. creative energy stimulated by the liberation of homosexuals in the 1980s, just at the onset of AIDS. his relentless decimation.

Lecturer Seán Curran’s artistic career spans 30 years, starting with traditional Irish dance as a child in Boston. Curran has had his own dance company for almost 25 years. Their work has been presented by BAM: Next Wave Festival and the Joyce Theater in New York. Curran also works in opera, directing and choreography, and is the president of the Tisch School of the Arts Department of Dance at NYU. He will speak about the legacy and impact of Bill T. Jones and provide the audience with a context on the contemporary world of dance. I spoke to Curran about why the screening comes at such an important time:

Why this movie? Why now?

Curran: Watching this film NOW is so important because it reminds us of how desperate and devastating he lived through the AIDS pandemic in the 80s and 90s, but also how creation and art have the capacity for healing transformation. to help cross. Interestingly, the film is coming out on the 40th anniversary of the first reported HIV cases in what seems so long ago now.

How does art help us understand this story?

Curran: Art does a lot of work for a society or a culture. He holds a mirror so that we can see ourselves reflected, tells us stories that we can learn or relate to, asks big, difficult questions. Can you bring it, it’s almost like a Shakespearean piece of history where we look back to a time or time of intense crisis and see how people coped. In this case, the story tells how a choreographer and his dance company managed to survive by continuing to dance or “do and do and work” as they say.

What did this process look like?

Curran: There was such a healing and transformative process in the rehearsals that was also present in the live performances, in addition to a sense of catharsis for the audience and the performers. Art can work in your life like religion does for some people. This can make sense in a chaotic universe where bad things happen to good people.

Why is this piece unique for contemporary dance companies?

Curran: In contemporary dance, we don’t often tell stories or imitate scenes from life as one might see in an opera or ballet. But I also have to say: we are human beings dancing with each other and for each other, so it’s hard to call what we do in contemporary dance “abstract”. I think it helps that you don’t necessarily look for a traditional narrative type story but look for images that resonate and be open to feeling deeply the emotions that choreography, dance, and music elicits in you as a person. observer watching.

What do you hope audiences will take away from the film?

Curran: The film’s message is about death, disease, and death as opposed to living with longing, regret, sadness, grief, and rage. Moving on with your life and getting back to doing your job is such an interesting update in the film for the students who are rehearsing to rebuild the play. Bill and Roz ask “What is YOUR AIDS crisis right now?” Today? Is it gun violence? School shootings? Rape on campus? It is still art that does its work. What can these young dancers put in their performance of D-Man in the waters create and find meaning and purpose in their own current life in 2021? Where is your emergency? Where is your passion? What do you care about?

Buy your tickets now at Rivertown Film Society’s website. Seating is limited and advance ticket purchase is recommended. Folding chairs and benches are provided; participants are encouraged to bring their own comfortable garden chair if they wish.