Bill’s Blog: Innocence and so on…

Diamond Reynolds Daughter Photo

““Vivaldo,” she said, wearily, “just one thing. I don’t want you to be understanding. I don’t want you to be kind, okay?” She looked directly at him, and an unnameable heat and tension flashed violently alive between them, as close to hatred as it was to love. She softened and reached out, and touched his hand. “Promise me that.” “I promise you that,” he said. And then, furiously, “You seem to forget that I love you.” They stared at each other. Suddenly, he reached out and pulled her to him, trembling, with tears starting up behind his eyes, burning and blinding, and covered her face with kisses, which seemed to freeze as they fell. She clung to him; with a sigh she buried her face in his chest. There was nothing erotic in it; they were like two weary children. And it was she who was comforting him. Her long fingers stroked his back, and he began, slowly, with a horrible, strangling sound, to weep, for she was stroking his innocence out of him.” – James Baldwin – Another Country

This chilling scene occurs between interracial lovers, Ida (a black aspiring singer) and Vivaldo (a white writer), the morning after she has been unfaithful to him with a powerful white man explaining that this man could get her a job.

The many recent police shootings of black men stopped for minor offences could not prepare me for the shooting of Philando Castile in St Paul, MN. The exchange with the gun wielding policemen was filmed and streamed live on Facebook by his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, as her four year-old daughter sat in the back seat witnessing everything.

Several days ago, I was invited to participate with poet Claudia Rankine and WNYC’s Producer of Special Projects on Race, Rebecca Carroll, in a segment of Leonard Lopate’s show hosted by Arun Venugopal titled On Art and Civic Unrest (Listen here). Arun asked for each of our responses to the continuous barrage of such events. My answer began trying to describe this blog centered on the notion of innocence.

At any time before this latest shooting, I would have recalled the excerpt from Baldwin’s Another Country and smiled, ruefully, convinced I knew something about this experience that shocked white Americans did not.

Two more shootings of black men followed…

Then, during peaceful protests in Dallas and Baton Rouge disgruntled former soldiers, both of them black, gunned down policemen.

My rueful smile of experience slipped as I felt my own innocence ripped away from me, not stroked. What replaced it? Ineffable sadness and a curious desire to sing it away dance it away or tell you – whoever you are – about it. And yet… nothing seemed able to replace the comfortable skin, that innocence, like a discarded suit of clothes, puddled, useless at my feet.



And Yet…

New York Live Arts moves forward, under the leadership of Executive Director, Kim Cullen, looking to the future with significant changes to the artistic team, breaking down silos with everyone now working collaboratively towards the mission of our organization.

My long-time collaborator and Associate Artistic Director of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, Janet Wong, is now Associate Artistic Director of New York Live Arts.

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company’s Producing Director, Kyle Maude, is now Producing Director of New York Live Arts assisted by Isabella Hreljanovic who’s been promoted to the Senior Producer position.

The second part of the Analogy Trilogy, Lance: Pretty, aka The Escape Artist had a successful opening at the American Dance Festival in Durham, NC. You can read the review here.

Lance @ ADF

My nephew, Lance T. Briggs, who’s oral history is excerpted in the work and who contributed some original songs to it, flew in with his mother from Tampa, FL, and attended the performances. I had last visited him this past fall on the eve of a life threatening surgery he underwent. I was moved to have him there and to see his interaction with my dancers who were very excited at this opportunity to have an exchange with the man they had been referencing in various forms throughout the months long creative process.


BTJ_7658Lancelance premiere

This confluence of my personal life with my creative team and its supporters: Jodee Nimerichter and her ADF staff, former board members/funders Ellie Friedman and Carol Tolan as well as present board member Helen Mills with her husband Gary and our fearless commissioning partner, Babs Case was extremely rewarding

At one point during the NPR On Art and Civic Unrest interview, Arun Venugopal asked about a statement I had made somewhere about my desiring that Lance’s audiences should feel something akin to being in the black church: call and response, a shout-out, embraced by a community. The truest part of my answer was that I hoped this hypothetical audience might feel my heart and the truth of the conversation between me and my nephew struggling – two black men – to love, to love each other, at all times but, particularly, at this time!


In closing

A view from Woodbox, our little house the mesa of Northern NM where I am spending the month

View from Woodbox

Spoken word artist, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, the librettist for We Shall Not Be Moved, the opera composed by Daniel Bernard Roumain which I’ve been invited to direct and choreograph by Opera Philadelphia sent me the following on the occasion of Muhamad Ali’s passing: