In semester-long project, students collaborate with professional dancers

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Current and former members of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company will work this semester with an ensemble of Yale dancers on a re-staging of Jones’ seminal work “D-Man in the Waters” (1989), set to the music of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Octet in E Flat Major.”

The collaboration is the ninth spring project of the Yale Dance Theater (YDT), which was founded in 2011 to enable students to work with professional artists on the reconstruction of existing choreography or the creation of new work. The initiative is led by Emily Coates ’06, ’11 GRD, an associate professor adjunct in the Theater Studies Program and the School of Drama, who has directed the Dance Studies at Yale curriculum since its inception in in 2006.

Bill T. Jones is a powerhouse known for his provocative, political, heart-filled dances that deploy formal postmodern experimentation to speak to urgent sociopolitical issues of our time,” says Coates. “Marking resilience in the face of loss, ‘D-Man in the Waters’ is one of the most significant works of art to come out of the era of AIDS. Against this historical backdrop, the choreography is thrillingly alive — offering a portrait of a community’s ability to survive. ‘D-Man’ significantly raises the stakes of the question: Why do we dance?”

Rehearsals for the project will begin on Jan. 16. YDT 2019 will culminate in two public performances of “D-Man in the Waters” at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on April 20 at the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School theater.

In conjunction with the spring project, Coates has organized a screening of a work-in-progress documentary on Bill T. Jones and “D-Man in the Waters,” which will take place on Tuesday, Jan. 22 at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of the Whitney Humanities Center, 53 Wall St. The film’s two directors, Rosalynde LeBlanc and Tom Hurwitz, will participate in a Q&A with audience members after the screening, moderated by Rizvana Bradley, assistant professor in History of Art and African American Studies. Coates will introduce the film and directors. This event is being held in conjunction with John Lucas’ “Documentary Film Workshop” and Coates’ “Dance on Film” course. It is sponsored by the Dance Studies curriculum in Theater Studies, Film and Media Studies, the First-Year Seminar Program, and Films at the Whitney, with support by the Barbakow Fund for Innovative Film Programs at Yale.

A dancer leaps into the arms of a group of other dancers against a black background.
A promotional still from Rosalynde LeBlanc and Tom Hurwitz’s documentary about Jones and his work, “Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Waters.”

On Tuesday, Feb. 19, Jones will receive the James R. Brudner ’93 Memorial Prize from Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies at Yale. As part of the prize celebration, he will give a public lecture that day at 4:30 p.m. at the Whitney Humanities Center, 53 Wall St. The lecture will be followed by a reception at 5:45 p.m. The Brudner Prize is awarded annually to an accomplished scholar, artist, or activist who has made significant contributions to LGBT studies and LGBT communities.

Jones is the artistic director, co-founder and choreographer for the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company. In 1982, he formed the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company (then called Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane & Company) with his late partner, Arnie Zane. He has received major honors including the Human Rights Campaign’s 2016 Visibility Award, a 2013 National Medal of Arts, a 1994 MacArthur “Genius” Award, and Kennedy Center Honors in 2010. He was named “An Irreplaceable Dance Treasure” by the Dance Heritage Coalition in 2000. His ventures into Broadway theater resulted in a 2010 Tony Award for Best Choreography in the critically acclaimed “FELA!,” a  musical he co-conceived, co-wrote, directed, and choreographed. He also earned a 2007 Tony Award for Best Choreography in “Spring Awakening” as well as an Obie Award for the show’s 2006 off-Broadway run. His choreography for the off-Broadway production of “The Seven” earned him a 2006 Lucille Lortel Award.

Jones is currently 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.

YDT is conceived as a practice-based research initiative that allows students to investigate choreographic ideas and their historical context through a rigorous, semester-long rehearsal process, resulting in a final public performance. As part of the research, YDT dancers regularly post blog entries about their experience. YDT’s mission is to track and contribute to current discourses in dance through an inquiry distinctly grounded in physical experience. It is sponsored by the Arts Discretionary Fund in Yale College in cooperation with the Dance Studies curriculum, Theater Studies, and Alliance for Dance at Yale.

Yale student participants in the YDT have in recent years collaborated intensively with dancers from the Paul Taylor Dance Company, Urban Bush Women, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, among others.