Story/Time Debuts at Wolf Trap

Barrington M. Salmon | 7/27/2012, 4:20 p.m.

Bill T. Jones chuckled deeply as he considered the arc his latest work, Story/Time has taken since its inception.

Jones, 60, a celebrated choreographer, theater director and writer, said his original intention was to limit where he showed the work. He certainly didn't think he would end up on a mini-tour, he said.

"It was small scale, intimate. It was going to be me alone on a small stage in front of a few select people," said Jones during a recent interview. "I thought of presenting it in alternate spaces and small settings, but this is now a full-fledged production at Wolf Trap, of all places. But it holds up well because of the beauty."

The production consists of 90 one-minute autobiographical segments. Jones described it as one-minute excerpts from 30 years of dance making, works from his dance company over the last 10 years and material that might have been done that day in class.

Each piece is accompanied by original music from composer Ted Coffey and the company's signature modern dance. At the D.C. premiere of Story/Time, the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company will make its Wolf Trap debut. The production is in town for one night only, on the evening of Tuesday, July 31.

Contrary to what some critics and reviewers think the play tells them, Jones said his newest work isn't his life story.

"I don't know where that comes from that it's autobiographical," he said. "There are 173 stories which range from me reporting something someone told me, me remembering stories my mother's mother told her, Persian, Sufi and Indian stories."

"There's a menu of stories organized by 'chance procedure' for dance. Some are personal stories, some are not. I do think one gets a sense of me on how the stories are presented, though."

Jones, winner of two Tony awards and a MacArthur "Genius" Award recipient, said he invites the community to come, enjoy the show, and not be afraid of what it experience.

"It's a seductive, physical space that's its own reward," he said. "There is a cascade of images and words. Patrons shouldn't make a choice. They can sit with eyes closed, or focus on the beauty of the stage. The dancers are beautiful and Ted Coffey is doing his own thing."

"I would like people to make new connections to what they see and hear and take responsibility for what is happening on stage. So much is happening in random order that the brain rebels or embraces it. There's no right way to view the work."

He said he began focusing on this project after completing work on a play honoring Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday, titled "Fondly Do We Hope ... Fervently Do We Pray" and said he had been working on this project for years, dealing with it "very specifically, like a surgeon."

Jones, who had just returned from a family reunion in Bunnell, Fla., said he finds Story/Time a very difficult piece to talk about. He acknowledged the impact of composer John Cage on this work as well as on his thoughts and perspectives as an artist.