Story/Time: The Life of an Idea

Overview

In this ceaselessly questioning book, acclaimed African American dancer, choreographer, and director Bill T. Jones reflects on his art and life as he describes the genesis of Story/Time, a recent dance work produced by his company and inspired by the modernist composer and performer John Cage. Presenting personally revealing stories, richly illustrated with striking color photographs of the work’s original stage production, and featuring a beautiful, large-format design, the ...

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Overview

In this ceaselessly questioning book, acclaimed African American dancer, choreographer, and director Bill T. Jones reflects on his art and life as he describes the genesis of Story/Time, a recent dance work produced by his company and inspired by the modernist composer and performer John Cage. Presenting personally revealing stories, richly illustrated with striking color photographs of the work’s original stage production, and featuring a beautiful, large-format design, the book is a work of art in itself.

Like the dance work, Story/Time the book is filled with telling vignettes—about Jones’s childhood as part of a large, poor, Southern family that migrated to upstate New York; about his struggles to find a place for himself in a white-dominated dance world; and about his encounters with notable artists and musicians. In particular, Jones examines his ambivalent attraction to avant-garde modernism, which he finds liberating but also limiting in its disregard for audience response. As he strives to make his work more personal and broadly engaging, especially to an elusive African American audience, Jones—who is still drawn to the avant-garde—wrestles with questions of how an artist can remain true to himself while still caring about the popular reception of his work.

A provocative meditation on the demands and rewards of artistic creation, Story/Time is an inspiring and enlightening portrait of the life and work of one of the great artists of our time.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
One of The Skanner Newspaper’s Ten Best Black Books of 2014

"An experimental dancer/choreographer/performance artist improvises on the nature of story itself in a unique format. . . . A brave and often successful attempt to capture and display movement and intuition and the unspoken on the printed page."Kirkus Reviews

"Story/Time: The Life of an Idea is an ethereal memoir emblematic of this iconoclastic trailblazer's unpredictable approach to everything he does."—Kam Williams, AALBC.com

"Readers interested in the intersection of dance, performance art, and the world of ideas will gain insight and inspiration from this thoughtful and singular work."—Carolyn M. Mulac, Library Journal

"With the book, Jones attempts to explore the vital nature of his stage production back to its origins. . . . Anyone who has seen Jones' work has likely felt the need to press the 'pause' button; it carries a hypnotic current, a sense of relentless forward movement. This book, then, provides an ideal counterpoint. It suspends time, allowing Jones' story and space to unfold."—Jennifer Day, Chicago Tribune

"As a written document, this book is clearly organized, quickly read, and dense with musings that can be dissected by dancers and non-dancers alike. As a piece of art, it is both process and product in one. The engagement and participation of audience member might be enhanced if the book is read and discussed in a group setting, which makes me curious to see how it will fit with the live performance and how many people will pair the two. The experiment in creation, design and performance certainly poses many questions that, identifying as a dance artist, I found myself musing in the context of own work. Likewise, as an academic, I found I was concurrently dissecting the book for use in a future class. I found the 'provocation' of personal context and its link to the audience's experience of art particularly poignant."—Katie C. Sopoci Drake, 4Dancers

"Story/Time: The Life of an Idea, by the acclaimed dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones, is an odd amalgam of texts. In the preface, Jones tells the reader that 'The object you are holding in your hands is conflicted. It is a performance yearning to be a document, a book. . . . It is the record of a needy, angry and confused man. The need is for a tradition, an intellectual home. The anger is generated from an ever-maturing realization that I never truly had an intellectual home and never will.' Throughout the book's three sections, this conflict between performance and document was both frustrating and riveting, and ultimately, satisfying."—Alexis Camins, TruthDig.com

Library Journal
11/01/2014
Dancer, choreographer, and director Jones talks about the creation of Story/Time, a recent dance work inspired by John Cage, as well as his own childhood and career. (LJ 8/14)
Kirkus Reviews
2014-06-25
An experimental dancer/choreographer/performance artist improvises on the nature of story itself in a unique format.Derived from Jones’ presentations at Princeton University for the Toni Morrison Lectures in 2012, the text is a hybrid. There is some introductory material explaining what follows—material that credits John Cage’sIndeterminacy(1958) for inspiration. (The author returns to consider Cage continually.) The central—and largest section—is a series of 60 single-page narratives, each designed to consume a minute of dance and reading. Jones has used a computer’s random sorting program to arrange the narratives, so readers need to be alert as they move from page to page, for time and location and theme change rapidly, and chronology is an anachronism. In one 10-page segment, we move from a New Mexico mesa, to news about a friend’s death, to acquiring old family photographs, to John Cage’s diary, to a visit to Theresienstadt, to an amateur porn film. Readers become participants, seeking sense, as if looking at an unfamiliar landscape through the windows of a swiftly moving train. Each narrative, however, has an emotional core that readers will feel, sometimes quite powerfully. Another major section is a collection of black-and-white photographs of the performances. We see the performers, an image of time from a digital clock, and the author, seated at a small table, reading his narratives from a loose-leaf binder. The images conclude with a performer lying on the floor, mist swirling around. In the final section, Jones reflects on what he has done, tells how he began as a dancer and choreographer, and returns again to Cage, including a brief transcript of a conversation with Laura Kuhn, the John Cage Professor of Performance Art at Bard College.A brave and often successful attempt to capture and display movement and intuition and the unspoken on the printed page.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691162706
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 9/7/2014
  • Series: Toni Morrison Lecture Series
  • Pages: 104
  • Sales rank: 780,365
  • Product dimensions: 7.80 (w) x 10.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Bill T. Jones is an acclaimed dancer, choreographer, and director. He is the artistic director, cofounder, and choreographer of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and executive artistic director of New York Live Arts. He is the recipient of many awards and honors, including Tony Awards for FELA! and Spring Awakening, a Kennedy Center Honor, and a MacArthur Fellowship. In 2014, President Barack Obama awarded Jones the National Medal of Arts, the country’s highest honor for achievement in the arts.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii
Preface ix
Past Time 1
Story/Time 19
With Time 97

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