Choreographer Bill T. Jones is not a man to make a lot of small talk. "Are we going to talk about my company's work?" Jones asked over the phone. I had begun the interview by telling Jones how much I admired his propulsive, high-energy choreography for Spring Awakening, the Broadway musical for which he won a Tony Award. But he almost dismissed it as beneath serious consideration.
"A work like Spring Awakening is what I do for the commercial theater, and it is mainly about entertainment," Jones said. "The work I do for my company comes from a series of questions I have about what art is. It might have something to do with entertainment as well, but it is mainly about contemporary dance as a visual art, as something poetic and meaningful."
Jones' company, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, performs Another Evening: Serenade/The Proposition in Tampa on Wednesday. With 10 dancers, a cellist, keyboard player, vocalist and actor-narrator, the production combines movement, music, text and video to evoke the legacy of Abraham Lincoln.
As an African-American born in 1952, Jones grew up with the civil rights movement, and he welcomed the chance to educate himself about Lincoln, the Civil War and its aftermath. "It's amazing what I didn't know," he said. "Was the war about human rights, or was it about preserving the union? It was about both, but in the beginning it was more about preserving the union, which came as kind of a slap in the face to me, who learned as a 5-year-old that Lincoln freed black people."
In working on Serenade/The Proposition, part of a larger work in progress, Jones couldn't help but reflect on the rise of another Illinois politician to the presidency. "If you look closely at Lincoln, and you look closely at Barack Obama, you see what they have in common, and you see how different they are," he said. "And you also see how far the country has traveled to have a man of African descent in the highest office of the land."
Jones, who has not met Obama, would love to perform at the White House. "I wish he took the same interest in art as he does in basketball," he said. "He's a regular guy in that respect. I suspect that his wife, Michelle, and the girls would be more inclined to come to a dance performance."
The performance is at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Ferguson Hall of Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. $29.50-$49.50. (813) 229-7827 or toll-free 1-800-955-1045; tbpac.org.
On their toes, too: This is a dancey week, with special attention paid to Sarasota Ballet, which has five performances this coming weekend at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, Sarasota. In its second season under artistic director Iain Webb, the company is doing interesting work and has some excellent dancers. The program includes Paquita, Robert North's Troy Games and a pas de deux from Le Corsaire. $20-$75. (941) 351-8000 or toll-free 1-800-361-8388; sarasotaballet.org.
DanceUSF performs ballet and modern dance Friday through Sunday and Feb. 26-28 in Theatre 1 on the Tampa campus. Top-billed is The Eloquent Attitude of Requirement, a new ballet set to music of Bach by Rick McCullough, who teaches in the dance department at Florida State University. $8-$15. (813) 974-2323; arts.usf.edu.
John Fleming can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8716.