Watch: On the “Exhilaration, Survival, and Beauty” of Bill T. Jones's “D-Man in the Waters”

speakers on stage New York Live Arts Artistic Director Bill T. Jones with Mellon Foundation President Elizabeth Alexander. Photo by Ian Douglas.

In 2019, the iconic choreographer Bill T. Jones took a look back at the legacy of his multilayered work “D-Man in the Waters” with Mellon Foundation President Elizabeth Alexander.

For an artist grappling with an idea, “Tragedy makes things come into focus,” observed choreographer Bill T. Jones in a conversation with Mellon Foundation President Elizabeth Alexander in September 2019.  At New York Live Arts, where he is artistic director, Jones told the audience how, after a devastating personal loss, he created his now-iconic D-Man in the Waters. First performed in 1989, the piece was inspired by a star dancer in the company Jones started with Arne Zane, his partner in art and life. Choreographed after Zane died of complications from AIDS, D-Man conveys “exhilaration, survival, and beauty,” as Alexander noted, and is also a study of the poetics of form.

The legacy of this multilayered work is the subject of the documentary Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Waters.  The documentary’s co-directors, Rosalynde LeBlanc (a former dancer with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company) and Tom Hurwitz, were also on hand to introduce an extended sequence from the film, which is about a group of college-age dancers who, with LeBlanc’s guidance, must overcome the physical and emotional challenges required to learn and perform D-Man.  As the conversation at New York Live Arts revealed, Jones faced a challenge of his own: how do you let go of your work to allow someone else to tell your story?

Watch highlights from the conversation in our videos below.