Groundbreaking residency with Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company features local community members, spoken text, and sound score in capstone performance of “What Problem?” on November 4, 2022
Providence, RI—FirstWorks, a Providence-based nonprofit dedicated to connecting art with audiences, and Brown Arts Institute at Brown University, a new university-wide research enterprise and catalyst for the arts at Brown, announced their partnership to co-present an artist residency featuring visionary director, choreographer, and dancer Bill T. Jones. The residency will include free community events in October and November 2022 and will culminate in a ticketed performance of Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company’s “What Problem?” at The VETS on Friday, November 4, 2022. More information and tickets to the performance are available at firstworks.org and arts.brown.edu.
Building upon decades of creative work together, including presentations by Laurie Anderson, DJ Spooky, Mark Morris Dance Group, Taylor Mac, and others, this co-presentation of “What Problem?” and the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company residency in Providence represents a deepening of the partnership between FirstWorks and Brown.
“In these challenging times, for the arts industry and for us all, partnerships and deep collaboration are more vital than ever to uplift and support our communities,” said Avery Willis Hoffman, Artistic Director of Brown Arts Institute. “Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company’s latest work ‘What Problem’ highlights these pressure points between communal support and individual isolation and inspires us to reexamine our relationships and responsibilities as citizens. I look forward to a new era of collaboration between FirstWorks and Brown, with the hope that we will accomplish more impactful work together than we will alone.”
“This marks the third project and arguably the most significant that FirstWorks and Brown Arts Institute have embarked upon with Bill T. Jones and his company,” said Kathleen Pletcher, Executive Artistic Director of FirstWorks. “There is a fierce urgency to the important dialogue of ‘What Problem?’. Bill is a constantly innovating creator, revolutionizing dance and making room for it to be so much more. Through our newest collaboration, FirstWorks and Brown Arts Institute are inspired to push into new modes of partnership, trust, and service to our communities.”
“What Problem?” was adapted for proscenium stages from the company’s massive work, the acclaimed “Deep Blue Sea” (2021). Jones conceived of this highly personal new work in pursuit of the elusive “we,” including a cast of local community members, deconstructed text from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.” In a nod to sociologist, equal-rights activist and author W. E. B. Du Bois, “What Problem?” deconstructs what Du Bois called “the problem of the color line” and elaborates on “otherness” by expanding the term to include sexual politics, gender identity, class struggle and immigration.
Jones and the company develop content with local community members in each of the touring locations, making every performance specific to its host city. For the Providence performance, Jones will be featured alongside his company of 10 performers, four vocalists, and a cast of over 20 local community members, engaged in equal partnership by FirstWorks and Brown Arts Institute.
In “What Problem,” Jones reflects on King’s immortal words, “we shall overcome,” mixed with the scripture of our democracy as formed and shaped by WE THE PEOPLE. Residency events in October and early November will include a Creative Conversation exploring the humanist themes of “What Problem?,” rehearsals with local participants at The VETS, and a Town Hall with Bill T. Jones and Janet Wong, Associate Artistic Director of Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company to take place at Brown Arts Institute, Granoff Center at Brown University. Additional details on residency events will be announced at firstworks.org and arts.brown.edu.
About Bill T. Jones
BILL T. JONES (Artistic Director/Co-Founder/Choreographer: Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company; Artistic Director: New York Live Arts) is a multi-talented artist, choreographer, dancer, theater director and writer, and Associate Artist for the 2020 Holland Festival. Most recently in 2022, he was awarded a second Lucille Lortel Award for his choreography for Black No More. Bill has been nominated for the 2022 Tony Awards for his work on Paradise Square. Mr. Jones has received major honors including the Human Rights Campaign’s 2016 Visibility Award, 2013 National Medal of Arts to a 1994 MacArthur “Genius” Award and Kennedy Center Honors in 2010. Mr. Jones was honored with the 2014 Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, recognized as Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government in 2010, inducted into the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2009 and named “An Irreplaceable Dance Treasure” by the Dance Heritage Coalition in 2000. His ventures into Broadway theater resulted in a 2010 Tony Award for Best Choreography in the critically acclaimed FELA!, the new musical co-conceived, co-written, directed and choreographed by Mr. Jones. He also earned a 2007 Tony Award for Best Choreography in Spring Awakening as well as an Obie Award for the show’s 2006 off-Broadway run. His choreography for the off-Broadway production of The Seven earned him a 2006 Lucille Lortel Award.
About the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company
Over the past 40 years the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company has shaped the evolution of contemporary dance through the creation and performance of over 140 works. Founded as a multicultural dance company in 1982, the company was born of an 11-year artistic collaboration between Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane. Today, the company is recognized as one of the most innovative and powerful forces in the modern dance world. The company has performed its ever-enlarging repertoire worldwide in over 200 cities in 40 countries on every major continent. In 2011, the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company merged with Dance Theater Workshop to form New York Live Arts of which Bill T. Jones is the Artistic Director and Janet Wong is the Associate Artistic Director.
FirstWorks is a non-profit based in Providence, Rhode Island whose purpose is to build the cultural, educational and economic vitality of its community by engaging diverse audiences with world-class performing arts and education programs. Since 2004, FirstWorks festivals, performances and programs have attracted more than 700,000 participants. During its 2021-22 season, FirstWorks produced 52 arts education events reaching over 2,000 Rhode Island youth. New Virtual Learning online platforms furthered FirstWorks educational reach and engaged over 20,000 views from students, educators, and families. FirstWorks is the founding partner of PVDFest and has collaborated with the City of Providence to curate and produce the City’s free, signature arts celebration since 2015. In June 2022 the three-day festival drew 115,000 people downtown to experience local and world-class artistry across nine stages, resulting in deep economic impact within the City of Providence and generating over $3 million in total expenditures. The festival has employed over 4,000 artists since its beginning. Embracing collaboration, FirstWorks has fostered over 90 community partnerships across business, social service, government, arts and education sectors. Visit firstworks.org to learn more.
About Brown Arts Institute
The Brown Arts Institute (BAI) at Brown University seeks to cultivate creative expression and foster an interdisciplinary environment where faculty and students learn from one another and from artists and scholars in a wide range of fields across the campus and around the world. The BAI works collaboratively to enhance curricular and co-curricular offerings, directly engage students with prominent artists working in all genres and media, and supports a diverse program of concerts, performances, exhibitions, screenings, lectures, and symposia each year. The BAI builds upon Brown’s reputation as a destination for arts exploration, contributing to cultural enterprise through the integration of theory, practice, and scholarship with an emphasis on innovation and discovery that results from rigorous artmaking and experimentation.