Arts & Entertainment
4 min

Choreographer Bill T Jones

Chapel/Chapter at World Stage

Over a 40-year dance career renowned US choreographer Bill T Jones has racked up numerous awards and honours including a Tony last year for his work on Spring Awakening.

Jones’s recent full-length piece Chapel/Chapter opening at Harbourfront’s World Stage fest this week deals with themes of religion, judgment and questions of good and evil. The inspiration was derived not, as you might expect, from his childhood in upstate New York steeped in the church (as detailed in his 1995 memoir Last Night on Earth) but from more recent history: May 5, 2006 to be exact. That was the day that Zacarias Moussaoui, the lone defendant in the US government’s case against the 9/11 hijackers, was sentenced to life in prison for his involvement in the attacks. Not only will Moussaoui be spending the rest of his life in jail, he’ll be doing it in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day.

“I started to think about how a judgment like this could be handed down to someone in my country,” Jones says. “To essentially be thrown into a hole and never speak to anyone for the rest of your life. I began to wonder if there’s anything that someone can do that deserves that kind of punishment.” After scouring newspapers and websites for stories that evoked a similar response, Jones constructed a piece that tells three interwoven tales: of a father who kills his daughter because she “acts up,” an entire family murdered as their dog looks on and two preteen boys who witness a suicide.

Performed by the Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Chapel/Chapter blends Jones’s characteristic style of movement with video projections that evoke a myriad of locations including a church, a courtroom, a game show and a child’s hopscotch game. Costume designer Liz Prince opens the piece with dancers dressed in jailhouse orange jumpsuits, which are gradually removed to reveal the different costumes underneath. The music, collaboratively composed under the watch of music director Daniel Bernard Roumain is a haunting and emotive blend of jazz, rock and choral singing.

Throughout the 1970s Jones and his partner Arnie Zane choreographed and performed together, forming their eponymous dance company in 1982. Leading up to Zane’s death from AIDS in 1988 both he and Jones’s work became increasingly political. Since then, social relevance is a hallmark of Jones’s choreography.

When he originally staged Chapel/Chapter in 2006 Jones was clear he wanted the audience to be able to see each other during the show. “You see the dancers, but then beyond them, you see people in your community all bearing witness to the same thing,” he says. “It’s designed to evoke something of the world that we all share and the terrible things that are happening to other people we are curious about but don’t understand. For me this is what makes a spiritual space in the world today.”

over a 40-year dance career renowned US choreographer Bill T Jones has racked up numerous awards and honours including a Tony last year for his work on Spring Awakening.

Jones’s recent full-length piece Chapel/Chapter opening at Harbourfront’s World Stage fest this week deals with themes of religion, judgment and questions of good and evil. The inspiration was derived not, as you might expect, from his childhood in upstate New York steeped in the church (as detailed in his 1995 memoir Last Night on Earth) but from more recent history: May 5, 2006 to be exact. That was the day that Zacarias Moussaoui, the lone defendant in the US government’s case against the 9/11 hijackers, was sentenced to life in prison for his involvement in the attacks. Not only will Moussaoui be spending the rest of his life in jail, he’ll be doing it in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day.

“I started to think about how a judgment like this could be handed down to someone in my country,” Jones says. “To essentially be thrown into a hole and never speak to anyone for the rest of your life. I began to wonder if there’s anything that someone can do that deserves that kind of punishment.” After scouring newspapers and websites for stories that evoked a similar response, Jones constructed a piece that tells three interwoven tales: of a father who kills his daughter because she “acts up,” an entire family murdered as their dog looks on and two preteen boys who witness a suicide.

Performed by the Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Chapel/Chapter blends Jones’s characteristic style of movement with video projections that evoke a myriad of locations including a church, a courtroom, a game show and a child’s hopscotch game. Costume designer Liz Prince opens the piece with dancers dressed in jailhouse orange jumpsuits, which are gradually removed to reveal the different costumes underneath. The music, collaboratively composed under the watch of music director Daniel Bernard Roumain is a haunting and emotive blend of jazz, rock and choral singing.

Throughout the 1970s Jones and his partner Arnie Zane choreo-graphed and performed together, forming their eponymous dance company in 1982. Leading up to Zane’s death from AIDS in 1988 both he and Jones’s work became increasingly political. Since then, social relevance is a hallmark of Jones’s choreography.

When he originally staged Chapel/Chapter in 2006 Jones was clear he wanted the audience to be able to see each other during the show. “You see the dancers, but then beyond them, you see people in your community all bearing witness to the same thing,” he says. “It’s designed to evoke something of the world that we all share and the terrible things that are happening to other people we are curious about but don’t understand. For me this is what makes a spiritual space in the world today.”