Bill T. Jones returns to Charlottesville

Avant-garde composer John Cage once described his ethos for writing music by saying, "I gave up making choices. In their place I put the asking of questions."

Cage was one of the most famous proponents of indeterminancy in music - the idea that chance could be incorporated into a work so that every performance would differ from another. One of the most iconic works of this theory is Cage's aptly titled "Indeterminancy," in which Cage read 90 short stories in 90 minutes while music played in random segments in the background.

Influenced by Cage's work, renowned choreographer Bill T. Jones has created a stage performance titled "Story/Time," which brings together dance, narrative, music and drama through 90 one-minute stories inspired from Jones' own life. Jones is widely recognized as one of the world's most eminent choreographers: His many accolades include a MacArthur "Genius" Award, the Kennedy Center Honors and two Tony Awards. "Story/Time" is a unique work, not only as an outpouring from a master of modern dance, but because of its special relationship with the University. Developed partially through Jones' year-long residency at the University, his work applies Cage's ideas to a different artistic form, namely dance. In "Story/Time," the order of the stories will be chosen by chance, so that every performance will be unique in its own right.

Jones' relationship with the University reaches back to 2008, with the completion of "100 Migrations," a collaborative workshop and residency. This year's residency, which began in January, was completed in three parts. The third part, "Performance," will begin Sunday, Nov. 6 with a film screening of the documentary A Good Man as part of the Virginia Film Festival, as well as a 15-minute performance film of "100 Migrations." Afterward, both director Gordon Quinn and Jones will answer questions.

A Good Man, an acclaimed documentary which first premiered on PBS, follows Jones while he creates a performance based on Abraham Lincoln, a piece which is particularly poignant for the University because it "had an integral part of making the piece," said Beth Turner, vice provost for the arts. "Jones' research into the life of Lincoln brought him to U.Va., and specifically to Thomas Jefferson," Turner said. "It's remarkable to see the trajectory of [Jones'] ideas: He was creating a piece on Lincoln, but wanted to be here with Jefferson. He was exploring the idea of Lincoln as the greatest student of Jefferson."

For Turner, Sunday's event is especially important because it is the second Arts Assembly, a designation akin to Jones' first performance in 2008, which was the inaugural Arts Assembly - an event that "galvanized an Arts Network that continues today," Turner said. "I saw it as part of an amazing naissance of the arts community."

The Virginia Film Festival event is just the beginning of the events lined up for Jones' residency. Later events in the week include a work-in-progress showing of "Story/Time" and the culminating performance of the Civil-War inspired "Serenade/The Proposition" at The Paramount Theatre which represents the conclusion of a three-year international tour. Such events are designed to draw together the many spheres of the arts community, from dance devotees to casual viewers, allowing great art to serve as a focal point for community-building.

"For an artist of Bill T. Jones' caliber to sustain a relationship with the University, that does something to a place," Turner said.

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