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New York Dance Companies Merge

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In a rare move, two New York dance companies decided to merge yesterday. The Bill T. Jones-Arnie Zane Dance Company, which was founded in 1982 and has since achieved international acclaim, will now be one group, with the 45-year old arts presenting organization Dance Theater Workshop (D.T.W.). The company will be called New York Live Arts, and will be based at the D.T.W. headquarters in Chelsea. The merger is subject to approval from the state attorney general.

Bill T. Jones is the co-founder, artistic director and choreographer of the Bill T Jones-Arnie Zane Dance Company. He'll be the executive artistic director at New York Live Arts, and is joined by WNYC's Isaac Davy-Aronson to talk about the merger.

The Bill T. Jones-Arnie Zane Dance Company is an artist-led group. Why merge with an arts presenting organization like Dance Theater Workshop? Well, we have an affinity for, we have the same sort of interests in, progressive arts, body-based arts. We have certain core competencies that are compatible. It just seems to be a worthwhile thing to pursue at this time.

I note that the word "dance" is in both of your original names, but not in the new name, New York Live Arts. What's behind that? Well, I think because we want to expand the potential of what this space could be. Dance—and I'm famous for saying dance is the movement of people and things in space and time—dance is very broad in my estimation. But, I do think in the public's mind, perhaps people limit it. So, yes, this will still be a place where you'll see the most exciting explorations into movement. But, also there should be other things. We have a humanities series that we are developing that will introduce all sorts of thinkers, and new projects will come out of that.

Your company is financially more stable than Dance Theater Workshop, and your company will take on D.T.W.'s $3 million mortgage for its space at 219 West 19th Street. What do you get out of the deal? We get a home. We get some sort of a place that we can stand on and an intelligent community of people headed by the likes of Carla Peterson, who is now the artistic director, and who will stay in that position as I become executive artistic director. People that we have things in common with, we have a history there. I think it's a good way to look to the future to a time when maybe I don't want to be making dances. But I would like to be part of the discourse in this great city of New York City. We are combining our boards, we will be able to share funders, there will be many advantages to being two instead of one.

You are known for always tackling political and controversial issues with your group and you are now also directing the Broadway musical Fela! (which you also choreographed). How will the merger affect the projects you take on? I have been fortunate to have in my company the likes of Janet Wong, who's my associate director. With a piece like Fela!, I have a wonderful couple of associates, Nigel Smith and Maya Garcia, who actually keep the flame burning when I'm not there. And I suspect that we can continue this kind of collaborative spirit when N.Y.L.A. kicks in.

The new company will be led by three people: yourself, Carla Peterson, DTW's artistic director, and Jean Davidson, executive director of your company. This could be a recipe for disaster. Any concerns about having three people running the ship? Sure, everybody's job descriptions are different. Jean is the executive director, she's not the artistic director, and I am the executive artistic director, which means that Carla and I have a conversation, but Carla and I will have a way of reconciling differences. Ultimately I hope to be steering it from the artistic point of view  with Carla's assistance. Let's be sure we're clear about that, and that Jean is the executive director. So, no, we don't want to step all over each other. This is all very new. I wasn't sure if with this program we just announced our "engagement" or our "marriage," but the world is relating to it like a "marriage" so I say we are holding hands and we go into this with great trust and love and excitement.

The new company is getting $90,000 from the N.E.A. and plans on having a bigger board. We are still in a struggling economy and arts organizations are having trouble raising money. Will the merger make fund-raising easier? How so?  Ha, what do you think? Yes, I think that's part of the time we live in. For years we felt superior to our European counterparts because many of them have state funding and we had noble poverty, which encouraged us as Americans, we thought, to be more innovative. That gets a little tired but it's still the truth. The truth is we have to be very resourceful and I think the same thing will have to happen at N.Y.L.A. We will tow the line, we will be as experimental as we possibly can, and as spontaneous as we can possibly be. But in the end, we've got to be able to make sure that the bottom line comes in and that's what I think we're set up to do.