Jones brings his creative and adventurous process onto the page with his writing as well. Last Night on Earth, Jones’ memoir (1995), which he calls 'performance in text', is a poetic negotiation between storytelling and the written page. The driving force behind his art is articulated: how to resolve and merge the legacy of African American culture with the attraction to abstract art, formalism and the European avant-garde; how to find answers to social and historical inquiries through the study of choreographic forms.
The first chapters are populated by children and landscapes. In performative snapshots Jones, the tenth of twelve siblings, captures his childhood as a journey both geographical – the Jones along with other farming families, left Florida to find work in the more stable North – and spiritual, when in the evening his family gathers, sings, dances, and tells stories. Some belonging to America’s history of violence.
Jones’ sense of longing, and curiosity travels from childhood to his encounter with Arnie Zane. Through the lens of their love for art and for each other, he illuminates their differences, their creative process, and the historical moment in the art world.
The publication of Last Night on Earth represents a turning point in Jones’ life and career. As he reflectively looks back, he can envision his future with the company after Still/Here (1994). Two new creative forces have joined him in life and art: artist and now husband Bjorn Amelan, who will create some of the most remarkable set environments of his future works, and Janet Wong, the now Associate Artistic Director of the company.
His one-minute-long stories written as a response to a virtual conversation with iconic figure, John Cage, on indeterminacy, are central in Story/Time (2012). The stories were read by Jones, center stage, at a desk, while surrounded by the exhilarating actions of his dancers. Within the formal restriction of the 60-second-frame, those stories felt so much more expansive: humorous, solemn, moving. Words disappeared into the movement, as the dancers told an even more compelling story, to reappear again, accompanied by a gasp or a laughter.
Eventually Story/Time shape-shifted into a series of prestigious lectures at Princeton University, and those lectures became a book, which reads as a musical score, and brings one back to the memory of the performance, and if there is no memory – I am willing to bet – to the desire of it. To the invention of it.
Seeing Story/Time at the Jacob’s Pillow festival for the second time, reconnected me to the epiphany of my seeing the BTJ/AZ Dance Company in We Set Out Early…Visibility Was Poor (1998) at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I left the theater thinking that that was such a compelling journey, and it became a much, much longer one…