Babs Case & Bill T. Jones/The Arnie Zane Company: Using Dance To Explore Social & Political Tension

"The first section is about his isolation as an artist and as a black gay man, and he is moving on stage by himself, and he speaks Martin Luther King's, 'I Have a Dream' speech backwards."

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company will join us in Jackson Hole for a creative and performance residency that looks at social and ethical issues through the lens of dance. Mr. Jones and the company will develop and perform their newest work, "What Problem?", a re-setting of "Deep Blue Sea", which digs deep into a wide range of topics, including human rights, political science, political history, and civil rights/liberties.  Thank you, Babs Case, for speaking on behalf of everyone involved!

Emy DiGrappa (00:24):

Hello. My name is Emy diGrappa. Each week we bring you stories asking our guests the question, why? We learn about passion purpose and the human experience. Brought to you by Wyoming Humanities, with the generous support of the Wyoming Community Foundation. This is What's Your Why?

Emy DiGrappa (00:56):

Today we are talking to Babs Case, artistic executive director of Dancer's Workshop in Jackson, Wyoming. Welcome, Babs.

Babs Case (01:06):

Thank you, Emy. It's great to be here.

Emy DiGrappa (01:09):

Well, I'm excited to talk to you because I'm excited about the grant we gave to you, the expansion grant for the Bill T. Jones Arnie Zane Company. And I wanted to ask you about this new work that they're doing called What Problem? and the fact that it touches on really current events, which are human rights, political science, political history, and civil rights and liberties. What was your vision for this grant and your work with Bill T. Jones?

Babs Case (01:38):

Well, this will be the fifth time that we will be bringing Bill's company back. Six or seven years ago, when we first discussed bringing Bill here, I felt very strongly that Bill's voice was a voice that needed to be heard in the world today. He is very elegant and eloquent and has a very strong voice. He works in a multidisciplinary manner, which is very interesting to me. He has gorgeous dancers that are of all diverse races, and so his company has a very specific look. And then the material that he explores is definitely based in civil rights and having a voice and using it, asking questions. He always talks about asking questions, and I believe that the world needs to hear from him his perspective at this point in time, and our community has really responded to his work.

Babs Case (03:00):

We originally commissioned a trilogy of work that he created here in Jackson. Watching him work with his gorgeous dancers, speaking the composing of the music, it's awe inspiring. He is so talented, and now they're also using projection and video, but he's just an inspiring artist and we're so proud to be working with them and to have the company here in residence. Thank you for the funding.

Emy DiGrappa (03:37):

What are the specific social and ethical issues that you think he's going to touch on through the lens of dance?

Babs Case (03:45):

Well, this particular work, he originally showcased or originally workshopped ... sorry, not showcased, but workshopped here in Jackson, and it's evolved for him. I know that the work is in three sections and the first section is a bout his isolation as an artist and as a black gay man. And he is moving on stage by himself and he speaks Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech backwards. So I think metaphorically, what he's saying is that he sees that we are moving backwards in time culturally. That's my interpretation of it.

Babs Case (04:40):

And then he also, then the second section of the piece involves his dancers coming onto stage and joining him and they lift him up literally and metaphorically almost in the sense of a raft. It's like he is floating above the floor, and I think he, when we saw the peace workshop, he spoke about how during the last few years he's felt as if we were moving backwards in society and culturally, and then he realized that he had these dancers that were so inspiring to him, so they are the second section of the piece.

Babs Case (05:38):

And then in the third section, he brings in people from our community who will perform with him as well as a group of choral singers. So it's as if not only his company supports him, but also the community that he travels into and performs with also lifts him up and supports his voice.

Babs Case (06:07):

And so it's a really beautiful piece metaphorically. I just think it's very important at this time in our world.

Emy DiGrappa (06:19):

When you say that, I'm interested in what messages in this piece are people going to walk away with or be inspired by, and do you really think they're going to capture that he's portraying a message that we're moving backwards culturally?

Babs Case (06:38):

I think his idea is that at the same time that we're moving backwards, we're moving forward, we're coming together. I think that there's no doubt that there has been a resurgence in racism in our country recently, or I would say more of an allowance for it historically. And whether that is because of economic reasons, that there's a greater class divide happening amongst us, which is documented, but that by coming together, we can make a difference, and I think that the piece represents both.

Emy DiGrappa (07:28):

Have you ever had a conversation with Bill T. Jones about the Jackson culture and that we're a very homogenous group of people that live in Wyoming, basically, and how that inspires him to reach out and maybe open people's eyes?

Babs Case (07:50):

When he came to workshop the piece, and we were at Munger School last time for two and a half weeks, he was first quite surprised to see the large Hispanic population in our community because he hadn't really experienced that previously in his residencies here. Then, he also was quite surprised that he asked for 40 community volunteers and they were all women, and I mean, that really surprised him. We started telling him a little bit about the history of Wyoming women and the strengths that there is there, and he also recognizes, I think, that he's met with Summit High School students and we've done our best to give him the platform for questions and answers with audiences and exposure to other artists. In our open rehearsal process, we've had audiences respond with what did you see, hear, think, feel?

Babs Case (09:19):

I mean, I can't speak for Bill, but we did have conversations about the fact that it was all women that responded to his project. I mean, he's never really discussed that. It's primarily a white audience. I think for Bill probably in his lifetime, he has been, and I know I've heard him mention it, performing for primarily white audiences. Whether that's because of economic reasons, I'm not quite sure, Emy.

Emy DiGrappa (10:02):

Well, that's a really good conversation to have when he's here, especially with the social and ethical issues he's going to touch on in this new project called What Problem? I think that those are really great conversations and that's one of the things that we love to fund, the conversation behind the project, behind the dance, behind the meaning of the dance. And those would be really great conversations to have in very open and candid and honest way, but not in a fearful way, not in a pointing a finger way, but just like here we are. And I love that the name of his project is called What Problem?

Babs Case (10:55):

Originally it was called Deep Blue Sea. Originally, he worked with that, and I think that that came from the book Moby Dick. Originally Bill quite often finds inspiration from literary sources, and the idea of the whale. And I think that and that being lost at sea and that isolation, I think Bill identified with that at that moment. And Bill is a very open speaker, very honest and forthright. He loves to talk about the work. So we'll definitely be having question and answer periods, dialogue with the audiences.

Emy DiGrappa (11:44):

Well, thank you so much, Babs. It's been so great talking to you. I really look forward to this project, and just keep us informed and we really want to put it out there front and center for everyone in Wyoming to appreciate.

Babs Case (12:00):

Thank you so much for the support. We're very grateful and we look forward to it, too.

Emy DiGrappa (12:06):

Thank you. Thank you for joining us for this episode of What's Your Why?, brought to you by Wyoming Humanities with support from Wyoming Community Foundation and generous supporters like you. To learn more, go to thinkwhy.org, subscribe, and never miss a show.