Kim Jones is a dance detective. That means she rescues lost works by stitching together fragments of ephemera — a choreographer’s notes, decades-old still images — with original performers’ fading memories to restage dances that take cues from source material, but are of necessity something new.
“Discovering something great choreographers created is unlocking a piece of romanticized history,” said Ms. Jones, an associate professor of dance here at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. “With work considered lost, curiosity compels me to dig into the past and reveal some of that mystery.”
Ms. Jones, a former dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company, has spent the past 18 months leading a team to reconstruct Paul Taylor’s 1962 “Tracer,” with a set piece and costumes by Robert Rauschenberg. She is restaging the piece with Mr. Taylor’s smaller dance company, Taylor 2, which will perform the work as part of a three-week residency at the university in September.
Ms. Jones came to Mr. Taylor’s attention after she reimagined the choreography for a lost 1935 Martha Graham solo work, “Imperial Gesture,” in 2013, at the invitation of Janet Eilber, the Graham company’s artistic director. This is the first time that Mr. Taylor has authorized a reconstruction of his work outside his company. Definitions of what constitutes a “lost” dance vary.
“If we don’t have film, it’s a lost work,” Ms. Eilber said. “There are 181 works Martha Graham created, and we think we can authentically restage between 50 and 60 of them.” That’s where Ms. Jones came in. “Kim’s reimagining of ‘Imperial Gesture’ brought it back to life,” Ms. Eilber said. “Not in its authentic original state, yet it recaptured so much of the inspiration.”
For Ms. Jones, lost work represents a starting point for discovery. “‘Lost’ is something that may not be visible at the moment,” Ms. Jones said. “That doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. I approach a project like ‘Tracer’ as an exciting archival dig and an opportunity to explore the early postmodern genre. I’m not immediately worried about the outcome when I take on a project. My goal is to have a successful collaborative process.” Political, economic and cultural conditions fueling moments of creation are critical elements informing reconstruction of lost work, Ms. Jones said.
“When Graham created ‘Imperial Gesture,’ the work was in response to many factors including the rise of fascism in Europe, workers’ rights, and the emergence of American expressive dance,” she said. “With ‘Tracer,’ it’s the beginning of the Vietnam War. Rauschenberg is finding value in using found objects. Why? I want to bring these historical elements to my students and an audience.”
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