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William Tass Jones

In: People

Submitted By lervetris63
Words 1038
Pages 5
Lervetris Cook

Professor John Gamble

Dance 101

July 24, 2011

Bill T. Jones and the Last Supper at Uncle Tom's

Cabin/ The Promised Land

William Tass Jones was born on February 15, 1952, in Bunnell, Florida. He and his family

moved north as part of the the Great Migration in the first half of the twentieth century. They settled

in Wayland, New York, where Jones attended Wayland High School. He discovered dance while in

college on a sports scholarship at Binghamton University and soon began studying classical ballet and

modern dance. It was here that he met Arnie Zane, a photographer who was to become his partner and

collaborator. Together they studied the art of dance and became co-founders of American Dance Asy-

lum, based in Binghamton, New York in 1973. Jones was tall, black, and graceful, Zane was short,

white, and tough, and it was in their obvious contrast that the success of their performing partnership


A gay African American who has experienced dual prejudices, Bill T. Jones has often brilliantly

transformed his anger and autobiography into dance. Early he became known for highly confrontational

sexually and racially charged dances that obliterated boundaries between the public and the private. He

and Arnie were life and dance partners from 1971 until Zane died in 1988, and Jones has continued to

direct the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company.

Jones's Last Supper at Uncle Tom's Cabin/The Promised Land is a sprawling, ambitious dance

about racism, repression, faith, and sexual freedom. But unlike the family saga novels that are also

described as “sprawling” and “ambitious”, Jones's dance is a work of intelligence and commitment

whose radical aesthetics confront the audience. Simply said, it is a masterpiece. In our alienated time

Jones actually offers a vision of the promised land and his utopia does not have harsh regulations. Jones

promised land is the body, freed from prejudices that sometimes seem to be society's currency.

Jones starts by attacking racism, in a section called “The Cabin”. He looks at Harriet Beecher

Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, whose abolitionist message contributed to the civil War. I believe that

Jones ids delighted by the stereotypes that fill the novel; the impossibly saintly Uncle Tom himself,

who refuses to run away with the slave Eliza; the slave owner Haley, who takes pride in the fact that

he only puts fetters on Tom's ankles instead of on both his ankles and hands; Haley's slaves Sam and

Andy, who interfere with his pursuit of Eliza by pretending stupidity; the gentleman slave owner St.

Clare, who buys Tom for his daughter Eva but neglects to free him when Eva dies; Sr. Clare's wife,

Marie, who fears the black slaves and says that they always steal; the abolitionist northerner Ophelia,

for whom St. Clare buys the African slave Topsy to see if Ophelia can really love the Negroes. The va-

riety of stereotypes that Jones invokes establishes that everyone, black and white, is implicated in our

widespread and varied system of racism.

Jones goes through Uncle Tom's Cabin at lightning speed, a technique that limits the novel's

melodramatic appeal. Most of the dancing takes place in small striped tent, as if it were part of a min-

strel show. Most of the dancers wear cartoonish masks; Simon Legree looks like a gorilla face. Harriet

Beecher Stowe narrates the story from outside the tent. Because of the narrative focus of this section

Jones limits movements to gestures and to a “Jim Crow dance “ like a buck dancer's shuffle.

After the story ends, with Tom's death, the dancers perform every movement backward but with-

out speaking, so it looks as if the audience is seeing a videotape being rewound. Jones “stops” at the

scene where Simon Legree whips Uncle Tom; Legree then strikes every dancer in turn as they line up.

The dancers have removed their masks, so that the audience can see people instead of characters.

Jones now turns from the story of Uncle Tom's Cabin to explore the point of view of one of its

characters. Eliza, the runaway slave, is the only slave who became free. He imagines the dogs that

pursue her as men in black T-shirts, boots,and dance belts, wearing dog muzzles Like jar heads at boot

camp, they run in place and do calisthenics.

In “Eliza on the Ice”,Jones casts four different aspects of Eliza. They are first seen in silhouette,

passing Eliza's mask from “The Cabin” from one to another. One of the dancers, playing the heroic side

of Eliza, dances gracefully and strongly to Sojourner Truth's speech “Ain't I a Woman?” Then there is

Eliza , the victim, with slashing, flinging movement as she speaks about how the men in her life have

betrayed her trust. She is chased off by the men-dogs, who come onstage with the third Eliza, who, like

the men-dogs she wears ornamental chains, dances with them, and barks orders at them like a sergeant.

A passive Eliza surrenders to her fate, she never moves but is only flung about by the men-dogs, passed

from group to group.

The next section , “The Supper”, is occupied with matters of faith; religion may be the only re-

course of an oppressed group. Though the constant movement keeps the audience's interest I feel that

this is the weakest section. The relentless repetition of the chair dance suggest death's relentlessness.

In the last section Jones clearly intends to confront his audience with mass nudity, as if to say

“You hate racism,sexism, and homophobia, but what do you really feel? The dancers conclusion offers

a welcome release. The almost nude dancers form vertical lines that break to form other vertical lines.

Suddenly everyone onstage is completely nude. The vertical lines change into waves. We are struck by

the simplicity of these bodies, their beauty, their, ordinariness,and their variety. I believe that none of

the dancers mentally put their clothes on, in their solidarity they cease being sex objects and become

just bodies, those things we carry around with us each day.

In 1994 Jones received a MacArthur “Genius” Award. In 2000, The Dance Heritage Coalition

named Bill T. Jones”An Irreplaceable Dance Treasure”.…...

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