Talking into the Future: A Conversation Between Professor Anne Bogart and Bill T. Jones

BY Angeline Dimambro, April 16, 2021

The Krannert Center for the Performing Arts’ CultureTalk collaborated with SITI Company’s Talking into the Future dialogues for a new series which “activates creative friction and bold questions, exploring the art of assembly in all its forms, and investigating the challenges of our time.” This installment of the series featured a conversation between SITI Company Co-artistic Director and Professor Anne Bogart and New York Live Arts founding director Bill T. Jones.

 

Bogart, who is the Concentration Head of the Directing track of the Theatre Program at Columbia University School of the Arts, founded SITI Company with Japanese director Tadashi Suzuki in 1992. She is the recipient of three Honorary Doctorates from Skidmore College, Bard College and Cornish College. She was a recipient of a Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, the Richard B. Fisher Award, a USA Fellowship, a Rockefeller Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and received the 2016 Alfred Drake Award from Brooklyn College. Recent works with SITI include Falling & LovingThe Bacchae, Chess MatchThe Theater is a Blank PageSteel HammerPersians, A Rite, and Café Variations, among others. Bogart is also the author of six books, her most recent publication being The Art of Resonance, forthcoming from Methuen Drama in fall 2021.

Mr. Jones is a Tony Award-winning, multi talented artist, choreographer, dancer, theatre director, and writer. He has choreographed and performed worldwide with his late partner, Arnie Zane, before forming the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company in 1982. He has created more than 140 works for his company. His memoir, Last Night on Earth, was published by Pantheon Books in 1995. As artistic director of New York Live Arts, Mr. Jones strives to create a robust framework in support of our nation’s dance and movement-based artists through new approaches to producing, presenting, and educating. 

 

Mike Ross, Director of the Krannert Center, moderated the event. In his opening remarks, Ross said, “What a pleasure to have these two guests, two of the most brilliant, creative, and intellectual giants in our field. Indeed, they are pioneers and groundbreakers throughout their careers, always pushing on the boundaries of their artforms, while also exploring other domains and leaving their marks on them as well.”

 

Before diving into the conversation, Ross shared two videos with the audience that showcase the work that both Bogart and Mr. Jones are currently doing. Both of their respective companies have performed several times on the Krannert Center stages, and the two have collaborated in the past for “A Rite,” a collaborative piece commissioned by the University of North Carolina’s performing arts center in honor of the hundredth anniversary of “The Rite of Spring” by Igor Stravinsky. Key to their collaboration, as Bogart put it, was their ability to find unity in their disagreements.

 

Commenting on the complicated context of the current moment, Ross asked the artists about the notion of illumination. In response, Bogart told a story that the three had discussed before the evening’s event which had provoked this idea of illumination: the panelists had discussed a recent New York Times article that reported how world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma gave an impromptu performance while waiting in the observation area after receiving the second dose of his COVID-19 vaccination. “He played ‘Ave Maria’ on his cello, and it was an incredibly moving event for everyone who was there,” Bogart said. “That’s, I think, where this notion of illumination arose, which is basic to what we do. What are the methods in which we personally stay illuminated—which I think is a daily practice—and how do we share that with others? It’s part of what we’re trying to do here tonight.”

 

For Mr. Jones, illumination is a moment-to-moment process. “I’m oftentimes really angry about the way the world is...the illumination is: how can I still look in the eyes of the person I’m married to, my husband, and in those moments still see what matters. When I’m in an empty studio, I don’t know what I’m doing, and I only hope that if I listen closely to my aesthetics, what is time and space, and I listen to my heart, and I’m not afraid, I trust that something illuminating might happen.” Illumination, though, as Mr. Jones noted, takes many forms beyond the arts, present in essential acts that can range from private prayer for some and community reading groups for others.

 

“The experience—the illumination—if we are each a kerosene lantern, we light it. Without the glass, which is the art we make, the flame is not very strong,” Bogart said. “But you put the glass on, which is the shapes we make in our work, and suddenly the room fills with light.”

 

This event was presented in collaboration with SITI Company, New York Live Arts, and CultureTalk campus partners and is offered free of charge by Krannert Center.