Presidential Fellows in the Arts:
By Jennifer Carnig
John Zorn will serve as a fellow next month. Zorn will perform with his Acoustic Masada quartet and teach a course.
Experimental saxophonist and composer John Zorn and provocative choreographer and dancer Bill Jones will continue the 2005-2006 Presidential Fellows in the Arts Series.
Zorn, known for challenging and energizing modern jazz, will engage in a public discussion and perform with his Acoustic Masada quartet on Thursday, Feb. 16, while Jones, who was named an “irreplaceable dance treasure” by the Dance Heritage Coalition, will reflect on his storied career in his presentation on Monday, May 22.
Past Presidential Fellows include actress, professor and playwright Anna Deavere Smith and graphic artist Neil Gaiman. Earlier this season, writer, producer and co-president of Focus Features James Schamus was joined by film director Ang Lee on campus, where the pair presented a sneak preview of the critically acclaimed Brokeback Mountain and discussed the film with an audience of students, faculty and community members. Schamus also worked with undergraduate students from the University’s “Fire Escape Productions” and participated in a meeting of the Mass Culture Workshop with graduate students and faculty from the program in Cinema & Media Studies.
The Faculty Committee on Theater & Performance Studies conceived the series and receives funding from the Arts Planning Council and the Office of the President. Each residency includes both a public presentation and a more intimate educational program for University students and faculty, such as a workshop, seminar or master class. While at the University, Zorn will conduct a class with students in Cinema & Media Studies, while Jones will offer interactive workshops to students in the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture; the Center for Gender Studies; and the Lesbian and Gay Studies Project.
Zorn is an avant-garde composer of jazz, classical and film music, as well as an acclaimed saxophonist and record producer. A founding member of the group Naked City, Zorn has written film scores and cartoon soundtracks as well as composed several works for a variety of instrumentation. Since his first album, 1978’s School, he has been considered a master of making use of the recording studio as a compositional tool. Many of Zorn’s compositions exist only in their recorded renditions, which are assembled “moment by moment” in the studio. Following the example of Duke Ellington, Zorn treats the musicians who play his works as collaborators, an essential piece of the musical process.
“Kaleidoscopic” has been used to describe his approach to composing, because his pieces present a quick-changing array of disparate sound elements. The New York Times described Zorn as a musician who “transcends categories; better, he’s made a notable career crashing them together and grinding them to dust.” His Acoustic Masada ensemble mixes Jewish roots music with new jazz to produce what the New Yorker calls “a mix of straight-ahead jazz, film-noir melodrama, free improvisation, twisted blues and bittersweet balladry—all colored with a sly Sephardic tinge.”
As much as Zorn challenges musical form with his avant-garde compositions and improvisational saxophone technique, Jones challenges perceptions of race, gender and age with choreography that interweaves dramatic text, movement and music.
The 10th of 12 children in a migrant worker’s family, Jones choreographed and performed worldwide as a soloist and in duet with his late partner, Arnie Zane, before the pair formed the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company in 1982. Creating more than 100 works for his own company, Jones also has choreographed for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Boston Ballet and Berlin Opera Ballet. In 1994, he received a prestigious MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant.
Bill Jones performs one of his acclaimed dances. He will visit the University in May as a Presidential Fellow in the Arts.
As a dancer, Jones gained fame and notoriety for baring his soul in works about what it is like to be a black man, a gay man and a man who lost his dance- and life-partner to AIDS. Constantly striving to find new ways to make audiences look at and love the human body and the human condition, Jones has made headlines for dancing naked as well as working with dancers of all shapes and sizes, including those with no formal training.
Most recently, Jones premiered The Table Project, a performance through which he asks how gender and age determine an audience’s perception of a work. It features six women and men ages 50 and older and six girls and boys ages 7 to 12. It is that innovation that the Washington Post commends as “a stage presence close to majesty.”
Tickets for Zorn’s performance are currently on sale, while tickets for Jones’ dance performance go on sale Monday, May 1. Admission is $15 general and $5 for students with a valid ID. Tickets can be purchased by calling (773) 702-8080, sending an e-mail to concert-office@uchicago .edu or visiting the box office at 5720 S. Woodlawn Ave., Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. People with disabilities who believe they may need assistance can call (773) 702-8080 in advance of the event.
Other events in the Presidential Fellows in the Arts series include an ongoing, three-year residency with 500 Clown, a Chicago-based circus arts and improvisation performance group whose members will teach classes and lead seminars on creative writing, adaptation and clown work, culminating with a major production in 2008. For more information on Zorn, Jones, 500 Clown or the Presidential Fellows in the Arts, visit http://arts.uchicago.edu.
The curatorial committee for the Presidential Fellows in the Arts is Heidi Coleman, Director of University Theater and Director of Undergraduate Studies for Theater & Performance Studies; David Levin, Associate Professor in Germanic Studies, Cinema & Media Studies and Chair of Theater & Performance Studies; and Marna Seltzer, Director of University of Chicago Presents. The committee currently is reviewing proposals for fellows for the next academic year.