Virginia Film Festival: A Good Man

Posted on November 8, 2011 by

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“A good man with a question mark, or a good man with an exclamation point?” — Bill T. Jones, A Good Man

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For Abraham Lincoln’s bicentennial, the Ravinia Festival commissioned Bill T. Jones, re-knowned dancer and choreographer, to approach the legacy of Lincoln. “Fondly Do We Hope, Fervently Do We Pray is one of the most challenging projects I have ever undertaken,” said Jones of the 2011 PBS documentary by filmmaker Gordon Quinn. “A Good Man is an honest and unflinching portrait of that process.”

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The documentary’s close look at the creative process is poignant in its stubbornness to portray the beauty and the ugly of the process, most importantly the ideas pouring out of Jones, the deep-seeded feelings he expresses about Lincoln. The conflicts of communication between choreographer and dancers, or choreographer and musicians, are all a part of Jones’ struggle to not only create his vision but also to share it with others. The tension is part of the beauty.

In the panel moderated by radio personality Coy Barefoot following the film, the first thing Jones said was – “I am not an historian, I am a poet.” He claims no true statements or facts about Lincoln through his choreography, nor through the extensive research on Lincoln he pursued in the process.

Rather, he created a “community of people thinking about the ideas of Lincoln,” about the push and pull of history in our present lives, about union and emancipation and liberty – timeless truths.

“It almost doesn’t matter the details of what he represents,” added Jones. He is not a “secular saint,” as many make Lincoln out to be, or want him to be. “It is impossible for us to really penetrate the past – we can only have fantasies, ideas.”

Bill T. Jones is known for his “dance reportage” style, in his words. The layering of dance, video, intricate set design, music, and spoken word by the dancers themselves is a  vivid sensory experience for the audience – it is far from just visual. “It is not about satisfaction in art,” explained Jones. “The impetus is engagement, to drive them back into the world,” with the new ideas, questions, feelings they have stirred within. “Artists should not be afraid to engage in difficult questions, to take the risk to say something.”

In lieu of the academic setting at Culbreth Theater, Jones and Quinn discussed art in the academy, where the arts belong at the core of education: “Should you not be required to step beyond your beliefs? Isn’t that what the university’s about?”

The documentary 100 Migrations, recorded during Bill T. Jones’ 2008 residency at UVA, was shown before A Good Man. The Sunday afternoon screening was the start of another UVA/Bill T. Jones residency, culminating this Friday with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company performance at The Paramount.

“All I humbly ask is to be allowed to participate in the world of ideas.” – Bill T. Jones, A Good Man

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