A Community in Motion
Local dancers reflect on involvement in the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company’s What Problem?
The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company’s What Problem? is intensely concerned with the concept of community. Again and again, the production probes the possibilities and limitations of the concept, drawing from an array of sources, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.” It’s a gale-force reckoning with our current historical moment, replete with cutting literary commentary, rousing speeches, expert choreography, and insistent, pulsing beats. Dancers swirl at the heart of it all, both raucous and tentative, offering audiences a potent glimpse of the American polity in motion.
Achieving this effect requires a uniquely community-driven approach. Earlier this fall, when What Problem? came to Chapel Hill, such an approach was on full display. In advance of the performance dates, the company and Carolina Performing Arts put out a call for dancers from around the Research Triangle. The dozens who answered this call soon became integral parts of the production.
In the week leading up to the two performances, these dancers—known as the Community Movers—joined the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company for a series of rehearsals. To get the inside scoop on the Community Mover experience, we asked several dancers to share their thoughts on the rehearsals, as well as their reflections on the production. Here are their stories.
Note: Killian Manning’s testimonial was collected on the week of rehearsals, prior to the performances. The other three testimonials were collected after the performances occurred.
“Thanks to Carolina Performing Arts and Amanda Graham, I began the adventure of a lifetime, one of those circle-of-life events that has this post-punk, pseudo-cynical grrrrl absolutely GIDDY. For this whole week, I’ve been rehearsing from 6–9 PM with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company as a community member, culminating in performances on Friday and Saturday night at Memorial Hall. I’ve been following Bill’s amazing work since that mind-blowing first moment at the American Dance Festival in 1988 . . . which eventually led to my dissertation: ‘Performing Utopian Visions: Art(iculation) in the Age of AIDS’ (2004). Bill T.’s Still/Here is Chapter 3. My excitement through the entire process has been uncontainable, and my gratitude for the lessons learned is overflowing! Belonging to a community that shares my enthusiasm for his genius, sharing rehearsal and stage space with him and his wonderful dancers, being a part of this brilliant production . . . it just does not get any better.”
“Working with Bill T. Jones as a Community Mover was a rare and thrilling opportunity for me, thanks to a friend who forwarded the original email [invite]. My dance background was in classical ballet rather than modern dance; although I hung up my pointe shoes long ago, I have stayed in shape through dance aerobics, strength training, and yoga. Even in my 70s, I had no trouble keeping up with the other movers, mentally or physically.
Most of the movers were associated with local dance programs and therefore had friends within the group. I knew no one, but folks were friendly and casual. Shane and Jacoby were excellent coaches; Janet was very pleasant to work with; and Bill T. himself was a magical presence. It was a pleasure and an honor to work with this dance company. My friends who attended had nothing but praise for this highly original program. Other than some pulled muscles during the chaotic rock-throwing scene, I believe we all had a favorable and memorable experience and would do it again.”
“I learned about this opportunity from my good friend who works at UNC. My favorite part was getting to know the dancers and the musicians. They are an amazing group of people, and it was wonderful to have a week with them. By the end of the week, we were speaking like friends, sharing stories of our lives together. I also loved being part of such a diverse group of community members. My thoughts on the production: it was such fun to be part of it. There was so much going on. The musicians were breathtaking. Hearing the words, “How does it feel to be a problem?” in song gave me goosebumps. It was astounding that in three days, we learned what we needed to do, and were ready for dress rehearsal and performances. Shane and Jacoby were wonderful teachers and coaches. They were patient and clear. They helped us take risks and be specific yet spontaneous and to explode with emotion and action when it was time. I learned that dancing is good for everyone, and through dance we can make messages come alive. I grew up in New York City, and when we were milling in a tight circle [as part of the performance], I recalled the tension of living in New York, and I also remembered the fear I felt when I saw police barricades. The way black people are treated in this country felt alive and visceral to me through the dance.”