Jones’ ceremonial neckwear got a little heavier on Monday, when President Barack Obama conferred the National Medal of Arts on the Valley Cottage dancer choreographer. The two-time Tony-winner (“Spring Awakening,” “Fela”) was joined in the White House East Room by his fellow recipients. Among them: novelist Julia Alvarez, musical theater composer John Kander, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Dreamworks chief Jeffrey Katzenberg, singer Linda Ronstadt and documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles.
Jones was a 2010 Kennedy Center honoree and a 1994 MacArthur “genius.” He was honored with the 2014 Doris Duke Award, recognized as Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government in 2010, inducted into the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2009, and named “An Irreplaceable Dance Treasure” by the Dance Heritage Coalition in 2000.
Monday’s Medal of Arts citation read: “Bill T. Jones is recognized for his contributions as a dancer and choreographer. Renowned for provocative performances that blend an eclectic mix of modern and traditional dance, Mr. Jones creates works that challenge us to confront tough subjects and inspire us to greater heights.”
“You don’t put it around your neck. The question is what the most respectful place is. I don’t have a large house, so some things go to my office in New York, at New York Live Arts. I am myself trying to figure out what does it all mean.”
The honor put him, once again, in the presence of President and Mrs. Obama in the East Room.
“I’m a great fan of his and I’m always moved to be there. The Brooklyn Academy of Music, the place that has been important to the work I’m being rewarded for, was honored at the same time. And BAM’s Joe Melillo said there was symmetry to our being awarded at the same time.”
The White House, Jones said, isn’t easy to get into.
“The security is remarkable, but the level of professionalism among the young people, all of whom serve as volunteers. It made me very proud. Everything was scheduled to the minute.
“What was so wonderful is that the President and Mrs. Obama were so relaxed. It is a state occasion, but at the heart of it were people: the young military people and President and Mrs. Obama. Very real and very warm.”
Medals are good, Jones said, but the question always becomes: What’s next?
What’s next for the elegant dancer-choreographer is relaxing at the home of a dear friend in Santa Fe and, in two weeks, marrying his longtime partner, Bjorn Amelan.
“Our friend and his companion are getting married, so we’re witnesses for each other,” Jones said.
After his I-do list comes a to-do list, including:
+ A dance piece, “Analogy,” inspired by the oral history of Amelan’s mother, Dora, who lived in Vichy France during World War II. The dance will examine the hopefulness and resilience of youth and what it means to help other people and to live a life of purpose. “She’s a fascinating woman.”
+ Other theater projects, including at least one that “might find its way to Broadway.”
+ An “adaptation of a serious American novel that I am pondering and working on with the author.”
+ And trying to keep his dance company, New York Live Arts, vital, with “live performances that will serve the serve community that made me. That needs constant attention and fund-raising.”
“There’s a lot to be thankful for,” said Jones.