Art Works Blog

Looking at Lincoln: Bill T. Jones Takes on a President

Perhaps no past president has inspired artwork by so many artists as Abraham Lincoln. From poetry to drama to the visual arts to symphonic music, numerous artists have made art that celebrates, investigates, and endeavors to understand the complicated 16th president. Joining their ranks is the famed choreographer/director Bill T. Jones. Jones developed two new pieces to celebrate Abraham Lincoln's bicentennial year in 2009 (as well as to celebrate the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company's 25th anniversary): Fondly Do We Hope...Fervently Do We Pray and Serenade/The Proposition. The NEA awarded an Access to Artistic Excellence grant to the Foundation for Dance Promotion to support events around the new dance works, such as a series of workshops and collaborative performance opportunities.

Members of The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company in a performance of Serenade/The Proposition. Photo by Paul B. Goode

"Fondly Do We Hope...Fervently Do We Pray is a work about Abraham Lincoln," Jones told the NEA in an interview last year, "and the Abraham Lincoln that we know is represented most unfailingly through his wonderful prose. So we've had to find a way that we can truly dance to the great man's words because this, to me, is a work about ideas, not just poetic imagery."

Considered one of the most ambitious projects in the company's history, Fondly Do We Hope...Fervently Do We Pray rejects the accepted truth about Lincoln in favor of challenging (and celebrating) the lasting contributions of this great man by investigating a handful of key moments from his remarkable life. The second piece, Serenade/The Proposition, approaches the legacy of Abraham Lincoln as ruminations on the nature of history. As he has done since he first began choreographing, Jones incorporates video and both projected and audio text into the dance pieces, using poetry by Walt Whitman, writings by Lincoln, and his own writings, among others.

A complementary documentary by Gordon Quinn, A Good Man, witnesses Jones' creative process as he grapples with the contradictions created by an African-American modern dancer creating a definitive work on Lincoln. The documentary will be shown on the PBS series American Masters in 2011. Visit the American Masters website to learn more about the program.

Upcoming performances include:

Fondly Do We Hope...Fervently Do We Pray:
Indiana University Auditorium, Bloomington, IN, February 25, 2010
Hopkins Center for the Arts, Hanover, NH, April 6-8, 2010
Lincoln Center Festival, New York, NY, July 15-17, 2010

Serenade/The Proposition Alverno Presents, Milwaukee, WI, February 28, 2010
Jacob?s Pillow Dance Festival, Becket, MA, July 21-25, 2010

For more information about the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and more dates of performances, please go to www.billtjones.org.

Please read the complete interview with Bill T. Jones referred to above.

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