A bobbing head in the middle of a vast ocean. This image from Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick inspired associate artist, choreographer and dancer Bill T. Jones’ massive new work, Deep Blue Sea. Pip, a young black boy (a character from the book) falls overboard during the whaling expedition and finds himself floating in the ocean, afraid and alone. In this highly personal work, conceived in pursuit of the elusive ‘we’ during these fractious times, Jones reflects on the interplay of single and group identities. He dances a solo for the first time in over fifteen years and is then joined in the spectacular set, designed by renowned architect Elizabeth Diller, by dancers from his company and eventually by ninety people from different local communities.
‘Deep Blue Sea is about the desire to progress from “I” to “We.” That’s not really all that easy to do. Nobody ever says, just like that: I belong with you, with this group. I want to show that slow and complex process of going from “I” to “We.’
– Bill T. Jones
From the early days of his career, choreographer, dancer and writer Bill T. Jones has addressed fundamental social issues in his work, often using highly personal subjects as a point of departure. One of the inspirations for Jones’s new production Deep Blue Sea was Pip, a minor character in Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick. Pip is a young black skipper’s mate who plays the tambourine when the sailors want entertainment. When he falls overboard and is all alone in the ocean, Melville compares his head sticking out of the water to the head of a clove. It was a moment that made a deep impression on Jones. In Deep Blue Sea , he connects Pip’s loneliness to the question of what it means to be an outsider.
As a black man in an overwhelmingly white arts world, Jones knows what it feels like to be an outsider. He links this feeling to issues around identity and belonging, and asks the question: ‘What does it really mean to be home, to be with your people?’ Looking at current trends in society, Jones sees a world that is becoming more and more fragmented (he prefers the word ‘fractious’), in which it is difficult to find consensus about anything, a world in which the movement for civil rights started by Martin Luther King is still relevant.
For Jones, the issue is not only skin colour; in his eyes, the struggle for equal civil rights involves many groups, and thus it’s also about what it means to be a woman, gay or transgender in today’s world. With this performance, Jones uses his personal feelings as the starting point for an exploration of the Other. In this new choreography, created with artistic partner Janet Wong, Jones himself will dance a solo for the first time in fifteen years. As a reflection on the interaction between individual and group identity, Jones will first dance alone, then with a few people from his own company, and finally will be joined by a large and diverse group of people from Amsterdam.
In doing so, Jones is examining whether people with very different backgrounds can stand next to each other and together form a ‘we’. Referring to the phrase ‘We the people’, which opens the United States constitution, and the gospel song text ‘We shall overcome’, Jones calls this endeavour 'In pursuit of the we.' Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech is also in the performance.
The Centrale Markthal, formerly the city’s wholesale food market and the venue for Deep Blue Sea, will be given a spectacular transformation by Elizabeth Diller of the renowned architectural agency Diller Scofidio + Renfro. The soundscape is an original composition by Nick Hallett.
Choreographer, dancer, director and writer Bill T. Jones (1952, United States) studied classical ballet and modern dance at the State University of New York in the 1970s.
After having lived in Amsterdam for a time, Jones and his partner Arnie Zane joined the experimental choreographers’ collective American Dance Asylum. In 1982 they founded Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. Jones created more than a hundred works for his company, and in addition he has had large-scale works commissioned by major companies such as the Boston Ballet, the Ballet de l’Opéra de Lyon and the Staatsballett Berlin. Since 2011 he has been the artistic director of New York Live Arts in Manhattan.
Jones has become increasingly interested in other disciplines, such as literature and musical theatre. He also perceives that as the body changes with age, dance changes and so do, he says, ‘your ambitions as an artist... I think older artists have a wider range. They do more with less, so in that sense they’re more strategic and stronger.’
His relationship with the Holland Festival goes back to 1981, with Valley Cottage, one of the duets that Jones and Arnie Zane had created in The Kitchen in New York. Works such as D-Man in the Waters (1991) and the controversial and confrontational production Still Here (1996) were frequently presented in the Netherlands between 1991 and 2007 by Het Muziektheater as part of their guest programming series.
In 2011 the Holland Festival presented his award-winning musical Fela!, and in 2019 the Opera Forward Festival presented the opera We Shall Not Be Moved, which Jones directed and choreographed. This year he is an associate artist with the Holland Festival, where several of his works will be presented, including the large-scale, ambitious Deep Blue Sea.
Jones has received many awards for his multifaceted work, from a MacArthur ‘Genius’ Award in 1994 to Kennedy Center Honors in 2010. He received the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award in 2014 and won a Tony for Best Choreography for his work on Spring Awakening (2007) and Fela! (2010). In 2010 the French government named him an ‘Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres’; he has received honorary doctorates from the Art Institute of Chicago, Columbia College, Juilliard School, Yale University, and other institutions. In 2013 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Obama and he received the Human Rights Campaign’s Visibility Award in 2016.
Elizabeth Diller (Łódź, 1954) is a renowned American architect and co-founder of the interdisciplinary design agency Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R). She is also Professor of Architectural Design at the prestigious Princeton University. Diller was born to a Jewish family in Poland, and emigrated to the United States at the age of six. While studying at the Cooper Union School of Architecture she met Ricardo Scofidio, her mentor and future partner. In 1981 the two and Charles Renfro founded the DS+R agency; Benjamin Gilmartin joined them in 2004. DS+R has grown to be an influential player in architecture, urban design, installation art, multimedia performances, digital media and publications.
Diller has become famous for her conceptual approach and for her innovative work for various cultural institutions. She received the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship for architecture (1999), and has twice appeared on TIME Magazine’s list of 100 Most Influential People (2009, 2018). In 2017 the Wall Street Journal awarded her agency the Architecture Innovator of the Year Award, and in the same year she received the National Design Award from the Smithsonian. In New York, she was partly responsible for the conversion of a disused railway line to the green urban park The High Line. She also led the design process of the cultural institution The Shed, and the expansion of the Museum of Modern Art. In 2018 Diller and composer David Lang worked on the opera project The Mile-Long Opera: a biography of 7 o’clock (2018), with a cast of 1000. For this edition of the Holland Festival, Diller worked with associate artist Bill T. Jones on the new production Deep Blue Sea.
Peter Nigrini (1971) is a renowned Canadian light projection designer and scenographer working in theatre, musicals, dance and opera. He studied at Dartmouth College (New Hampshire) and Central St. Martins College of Art (London), but mainly developed his career as an influential light artist in New York’s theatres. He toured the United States with Notes From Underground (2009) – after Dostoyevsky, directed by Robert Woodruff, and a year later was in charge of the projections in pop icon Grace Jones’s The Hurricane Tour. His work on the production Here Lies Love (2013) with The Public Theater in New York won him the Drama Desk Prize for projection. His work in Grounded (2015), also with The Public Theater, also won a Lucille Lortel Award.
Dutch theatre audiences may know him from his work on the swinging musical theatre production Fela!, about the life of Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, which was part of the Holland Festival in 2011. That performance was directed by Bill T. Jones, this year’s Holland Festival associate artist. The two had worked together previously on Jones’s production Blind Date (2005). Besides Nigrini’s work as a light virtuoso, he worked for many years with the influential theatre company Nature Theater of Oklahoma, where he has been its (only) resident scenographer since 2006. He also teaches at New York University. Nigrini’s work was most recently in the Holland Festival in 2016, when he was head of projections and film images in the spectacular multimedia concert Real Enemies (2015), working with jazz composer Darcy James Argue and director Isaac Butler.
- creation, direction
- Bill T. Jones
- associate direction
- Janet Wong
- Bill T. Jones, Janet Wong, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company
- visual environment
- Elizabeth Diller (Diller Scofidio + Renfro), Peter Nigrini
- Nick Hallett
- music production
- Mark Grey
- Liz Prince
- Mark Hairston
- Bill T. Jones, J. Bouey, Vinson Fraley, Jr., Barrington Hinds, Chanel Howard, Dean Husted, Shane Larson, s. lumbert, Nayaa Opong, Marie Lloyd Paspe, Huiwang Zhang