I got to musing about presidents and the performing arts recently after learning about an upcoming performance at ASU Gammage that explores perspectives on Abraham Lincoln and the civil rights movement.
The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company brings “Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray” to ASU Gammage in Tempe for a single performance on Fri, March 5. The title is taken from Lincoln’s second inaugural address.
Bill T. Jones is described as “one of the most celebrated choreographer/ directors in the world.”
He received a MacArthur “Genius” Award in 1994, a 2007 Tony Award for his choreography of “Spring Awakening” and a 2010 Tony Award for his choregraphy of “Fela!” (a musical he also directed).
Jones is also a 2010 Kennedy Center honoree — as are Merle Haggard, Jerry Herman, Paul McCartney and Oprah Winfrey.
With this work — a “fusion of dialogue, dance, multi-media, original and traditional music” — Jones is “seeking a way to articulate if not reconcile the view of Abraham Lincoln he had as a young boy growing up during the civil rights struggle.”
A photo on his website showing Jones standing in front of Lincoln’s carefully preserved hat gives a sense of the poignancy of his ongoing encounter with Lincoln’s ideas, words and actions.
It’s a far cry (or meow) from this season’s earlier Lincoln-related piece presented by Stray Cat Theatre in Tempe. But both demonstrate the ongoing fascination of performance artists with presidents and politics.
We’re rather cynical about holidays around here, so I joked with my daughter Lizabeth after hearing a song from the musical “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” on the radio recently that we should run right out and buy a copy of the original cast recording as a mutual Valentine’s Day gift. (For sweeter holiday fare, follow the adventures of the Blomquist Family.)
Last year Valley theater-goers enjoyed political performance art in the form of “Capitol Steps” at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts and “Second City Does Arizona” presented by Arizona Theatre Company at the Herberger Theater Center (their latest offering is “Sex and the Second City 2.0,” coming in March).
The Valley welcomed Ed Asner performing “FDR” last year to benefit the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, and the Cort Theatre on Broadway was home for a time to “You’re Welcome America: A Final Night with George W. Bush” starring Will Ferrell.
But I’m particularly excited about the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company performance because it sounds like a beautiful blend of storytelling with stagecraft.
There’s nothing like live performance art that leaves you not only entertained, but inspired. Pensive yet pushing forward. Screaming, perhaps. But also dreaming. Wondering and working hard to forge a reality more fitting of our personal and collective calling.
Note: Poet Maya Angelou (for whom President Obama’s sister was named) will perform at ASU Gammage in Tempe Sun, March 20, at 3pm (with a special appearance by “Broadway in the Hood“). Angelou is one of 15 people recently awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Learn more at www.uniquelives.com.
Coming up: Art goes Irish!, Musings on modern dance, Valley student directs his first one-act play