Exploring the "American tragedy" of "A Letter to My Nephew" from the Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Company - Detroit Opera

Exploring the “American tragedy” of “A Letter to My Nephew” from the Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Company

Michigan Opera Theatre has prided itself on presenting a range of world-renowned and groundbreaking dance companies to Metro Detroit since 1996. This Saturday, we are proud to add the Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Company to that roster, offering a powerful, thought-provoking piece about struggle and addiction different than performances we’ve offered in the past.

In A Letter to My Nephew, the company performs a piece based on the tumultuous life of Lance T. Briggs, the nephew of Company Co-Founder Bill T. Jones. A scholarship student of the San Francisco Ballet, Briggs was embarking on a journey to a promising career as performer. But amidst the club culture of the late 80s and early 90s, Briggs developed a drug addiction, one that led to sex work, time in prison and an AIDS diagnosis, eventually becoming paraplegic.

In an interview with WLRN-TV, Jones said the work was about “a great American tragedy” about an at-risk African-American youth who wasted an opportunity.

“[There are] those of us who are aspiring to be middle class black people — and he was being given a free ticket to train, so I thought that he didn’t understand how valuable it was,” he said. “And I thought he was saved, that art would save him. But it did not.”

In A Letter to My Nephew, Jones explores the experience of his nephew within the context of a larger socio-political history. The work resonates even more deeply by incorporating local culture, customs and architecture in each city in which the piece is performed.

What makes this company unique, however, are not only its specific subject matter or locally-tailored performances: It also create an all-encompassing multimedia theater experience complete with live musicians and special effects, the reason for which the Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Company does not define itself as only a modern dance company.

A Letter to My Nephew is composed like a series of postcards sent home and launches a swirl of images around Briggs––a vogue ball, a breathtaking vista, and a scene of forced migration––as he lies in a hospital bed. Using conversations with his nephew, Jones navigates familial relationships within the context of a larger socio-political history. The performance features haunting projections by Janet Wong, a delirious score by Nick Hallett and a live performance by baritone Matthew Gamble and Hallett.

“A Letter to my Nephew is a powerful work that will resonate with anyone who has struggled to overcome adversity or to assist someone in those circumstances,” said MOT Principal Conductor Stephen Lord.

The Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Company will perform for one night only, Saturday, Oct. 27 at the Detroit Opera House. In addition to the performance, the company will offer a master class the morning of the performance from 11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. at the Detroit Opera House Margo V. Cohen Dance Studio. The class is open to intermediate to advanced level dance students ages 13 and up. Attendance is $25 or free with a corresponding performance ticket. Pre-registration is required and can be done online at https://michiganopera.org/learning/dance-education/.

Following the performance, MOT will also offer an afterglow where attendees will have the opportunity to meet company dancers. The event will take place in the Herman Frankel and Barbara Frankel Donor Lounge and include drinks, a strolling buffet and DJ & dancing. RSVP is required by Oct. 24.

Tickets for the performance are $30-$100 and tickets for the afterglow are $35 per person (performance ticket not included). Tickets may be purchased online at www.MichiganOpera.org, by calling (313) 237-7464 or in person at the Detroit Opera House (1526 Broadway, Detroit).

For more information visit: https://michiganopera.org/dance/bill-t-jones/.

~ By Erica Hobbs