Bill T. Jones to receive Washington University International Humanities Medal

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company
Washington University in St. Louis

Few have shaped contemporary American dance as profoundly as Bill T. Jones.

Beginning in the 1970s, Jones and his late partner, Arnie Zane, tackled issues of racism, sexism and sexual identity while also experimenting with video, spoken narrative and other multimedia elements. Works such as “Still/Here” and “Last Supper at Uncle Tom’s Cabin/The Promised Land” — which Jones created in the wake of Zane’s death, in 1988 — captured both the emotional toll of the AIDS crisis and a stubborn refusal to succumb.

This fall, Jones will receive the 2016 International Humanities Medal from Washington University in St. Louis. Granted biennially, the medal honors the lifetime work of a noted scholar, writer or artist who has made a significant and sustained contribution to the world of letters or the arts. Previous winners include Orhan Pamuk (2006), Michael Pollan (2008), Francine Prose (2010), Ken Burns (2012) and Marjorie Perloff (2014).

“Our core mission in the humanities is to explore the human condition across time and space,” said Jean Allman, the J.H. Hexter Professor in the Humanities and director of the Center for the Humanities in Arts & Sciences, which administers the award. “Through humanistic inquiry we excavate, we discover, we reflect upon, and we analyze that condition whether in all of its horror or in all of its beauty and wonder.

“Bill T. Jones, by any measure, is one of the most influential humanists of our time,” Allman said. “His works have not only inspired generations of dancers and choreographers — they have shaped the ways we think about the arts and the complexity of issues they engage.”

Jones, artistic director of New York Live Arts, will receive the medal, which is accompanied by a $25,000 prize, during a public ceremony in the university’s Edison Theatre Sept. 29. In addition, Dance St. Louis will present the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company in concert Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 at the Touhill Performing Arts Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

“Bill T. Jones is without question one of our greatest living choreographers,” said Paige McGinley, assistant professor of performing arts in Arts & Sciences, who nominated Jones for the award. “So much more than a social comment ‘about’ sexuality, blackness, or AIDS, Jones’ dances marry a formally brilliant movement vocabulary to images, texts and sounds.

“The resulting works push audiences to rethink the relationship between the intimate and the political, between bodies and histories,” McGinley said. “Jones’ choreography has shone new light on historical figures that we thought we knew (such as Fela Kuti and Abraham Lincoln) as well as on marginalized people who are not often made the subject of art.”

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