Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Defining Own Style

BOND: Style?

JONES: Style. Merce Cunningham says style is repetition. Now, that's very kind of with tongue in cheek almost. Well, I think he's not far off. Style is attention to certain details that are repeated in some sort of orderly, maybe even scientific way as a kind of an infrastructure for expression and feeling. We move our arms in this way. These are our subject matters. This is the type of music. This is the formal relationship to a public. These are all stylistic elements.

We say that we don't teach a technique in my company. I have a wonderful collaborator, Janet Wong, who is my associate artistic director. She's a brilliant teacher and classically trained and yet with the kind of intelligent mind of the best of contemporary modern dance, but we say we don't teach a technique like Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham or Chiquita Ballet. We teach style which is in some ways a group of questions — how do we solve the problem of making a piece, for instance, like the one that you saw, "Blind Date"? We want to talk about the same thing the whole country is talking about, what seemed to be a collision course between our Enlightenment ideals and our present legislative and political practice full of doublespeak, full of lobbying, full of infighting, and yet everyone waves the flag of our being about liberty, tolerance, progress, and we said that there, our ideals and our practice are on a blind, are on a collision course which could be prosaically put, like a blind date, where it could end up being something new is born or it could end up being people kill each other in the backseat of a car.

That's what "Blind Date" was. That was a stylistic choice to use that kind of a raucous incoherent stage with lots of non sequiturs and someone singing Etta James' "Security," talk about faux McDonalds as quackadack burgers, films that have images of Paris Hilton eating a hamburger, all territory that is disorienting, but that was the style of the piece, the disorientation was the style of the piece, but it ends with me singing a song that Estella Jones taught me very old in life, "Walk with me, Lord, walk with me. Walk with me, Lord, walk with me. While I'm on this tedious journey, stay with me, Lord, stay with me." So, how can you go from this messy canvas to that very sentimental old-fashioned cry? And I'm not a religious person. When I say "Lord," I don't know who I'm talking to, but when she said, "while I'm this tedious journey," tedious — it's so — And here she's sitting diminished, this woman who had 14 children who was a hellcat, who raised hell in the school, is now sitting with me and I asked her to sing a song and she sings that song and that comes at the end of my work. That was a stylistic choice.

BOND: Did you ever think of being a singer?

JONES: I thought of it, but [laughter] and this Jessye Norman told me, we were doing "How Do We Do," she said, there will be no vernacular on this stage. [laughs] And because that's what I sing, I sing the vernacular.