As a young dancer, Jones studied ballet and modern dance and then created his own company, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, in 1982. He since has created over 100 works that combine spoken word with movement, collages of new and old music (recorded and live), video, set pieces, and costumes to create a theatrical experience unlike most other modern dance performances. His works tackle topics like slavery, race, sex, war, illness, and identity. Through the years he has challenged the stereotype of what a dancer must look like. His dancers are not all the same size, shape, color, or age. They are, however, all fantastic movers and distinct individuals, and it is their individualism that Jones works with when creating a work. He allows and invites contributions from everyone involved in the piece--how it makes them feel and how it relates to who they are.
This is equally true of his latest work, Fondly Do We Hope...Fervently Do We Pray, a theater piece based on Abraham Lincoln commissioned by the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, Illinois, to commemorate the Bicentennial of Lincoln's birth. The title of the piece comes from Lincoln's second inaugural address, given less than a month before he would be assassinated and the Civil War would end: "Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away." Jones weaves snippets of Lincoln's speeches in and among the biographical statements of his dancers, juxtaposing past and present in an effort to illustrate the connections between them. How are we dealing now with the issues Lincoln dealt with in his own time--issues like civil rights, human rights, liberty, and citizenship?