Choreographer Bill T. Jones thought something was up when people in his office stopped talking whenever he approached.
The two-time Tony-winning choreographer (“Fela!” “Spring Awakening”) learned last week what all the silent treatment was about. Yesterday, organizers at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts made it official: Jones is one of five 2010 Kennedy Center Honorees.
The other recipients, to be honored at a Dec. 5 gala, are singer-songwriter Merle Haggard, Broadway composer and lyricist Jerry Herman, songwriter Paul McCartney and television mogul and actress Oprah Winfrey.
Reached by phone today, Jones laughed as he said, “Do you mind if I get biblical and say my cup runneth over?”
“You can imagine, for a middle-aged man who had just won a Tony, I thought nothing could surprise me,” he said. “But this one brought tears to my eyes.”
The Valley Cottage resident was in Mexico when the official word arrived, in the form of an e-mail and letter.
“They send you out a sheet with what all of the honorees in the past have said and the list is astounding: Morgan Freeman, Twyla (Tharp), Bruce Springsteen and all these people. Mel Brooks was hilarious. He starts out with a Borscht Belt joke that turns into sincerity. It was very touching to be in that company.”
Now that his name has been announced, Jones knows that a tribute for the Dec. 5 gala will begin to take shape, a tribute to which he will not be contributing, save for the fact that it comes from his body of work as a dance choreographer and stage director. He recently directed “Fela!” on Broadway and has choreographed a huge work inspired by the life and work of Abraham Lincoln.
Jones said he is preparing not to get emotional when that tribute is given, as he sits within a few feet of President and Mrs. Obama in the balcony at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
“I’m going to be on my best behavior,” he says, adding with a laugh: “I plan to be as cool as the president. They’ve told us they don’t expect you to talk, they don’t expect you to do anything. You just have to sit there and be honored.”
How tough will that be for a man who is rumored to like a certain amount of control in his artistic endeavors?
“I think I can stand to sit still and watch the likes of Ms. Winfrey be praised,” he said. “And I think I can do it for myself. It’s going to be one of those peak moments in a life. I don’t think this happens that often. It really doesn’t.”
The gala will take place Dec. 5, after a Dec. 4 ceremony at a State Department dinner hosted by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, during which the Kennedy Center medallions will be conferred upon the honorees.
CBS will broadcast the gala Dec. 28 at 9 p.m. ET.
Photo by Seth Harrison: Bill T. Jones is a 2010 Kennedy Center honoree.