Bill T. Jones & Susan Rethorst: A Conversation in Five Parts

Choreographers Bill T. Jones and Susan Rethorst in conversation, moderated by Lois Welk, director of Dance/USA Philadelphia. Filmed at New York Live Arts on March 15, 2013 and produced by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. Full interview: 44 minutes.


On March 15, 2013, two seminal figures of the New York dance world—Bill T. Jones and Susan Rethorst—sat down with Lois Welk, former director of Dance/USA Philadelphia, to talk about their distinct practices and the evolution of the field. Though they share a birth year (both were 61 at the time of the interview), the dancer-choreographers represent two archetypal models or attitudes for how to live as an artist in society. During the interview, Jones refers to the French notion of l’artiste engagé, and talks about developing a thick armor to do battle with not only critics but audiences as well. Rethorst speaks of an openness to the world around her, of staying fluid and letting daily experience find a way into the work.

In the full 44-minute interview above, Jones and Rethorst discuss the meaning of the word “practice,” how they think about their audiences, the nature of collaboration, and how they view—with great trepidation—the future of dance.

In the three-minute excerpt below, Jones provokes Rethorst by speaking of a deadly form of critical neglect.

Choreographers Bill T. Jones and Susan Rethorst in conversation, moderated by Lois Welk, director of Dance/USA Philadelphia. Filmed at New York Live Arts on March 15, 2013 and produced by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. Excerpt: 3 minutes, 50 seconds.


Bill T. Jones is a multi-talented choreographer, dancer, theater director, and writer, who is the artistic director of New York Live Arts and Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company. In 2013, he presented Body Against Body, a re-performance of works from the early 1980s, at the Painted Bride Art Center in Philadelphia, with Center support. Jones has received major honors including a 1994 MacArthur Fellowship and a Kennedy Center Honors in 2010. He was inducted into the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2009 and named an “Irreplaceable Dance Treasure” by the Dance Heritage Coalition in 2000. His ventures into Broadway theater resulted in a 2010 Tony Award for best choreography in the critically acclaimed FELA!, the new musical co-conceived, co-written, directed, and choreographed by Jones.

Susan Rethorst is a dancer, choreographer, and 2014 Pew Fellow. Her work has been presented by the Museum of Modern Art; The Kitchen; Dance Theater Workshop; Danspace Project at St. Marks; the Holland Festival; Spazio Zero Rome; the Kunsthalle Basel; the Aix-en-Provence Festival; and Jerusalem’s Room Festival, among others. In 2008, Rethorst received her second Bessie for 208 East Broadway: Suitcase Dreams and in 2010 she received the prestigious Alpert Award. In 2013, Susan Rethorst’s work was the subject of a Center-supported retrospective at Bryn Mawr College titled, Susan Rethorst: Inquiring Mind/Choreographic Mind.

Grants & Grantees

In 2001 the Center awarded Pew Fellowships to 12 Philadelphia-based artists, and grants to 57 dance, music, theater, and visual arts organizations and practitioners in the greater Philadelphia region.

The experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans will be illuminated in this multimedia work created by MacArthur Fellow and jazz pianist/composer Vijay Iyer and poet/librettist Mike Ladd, in combination with a publication of local veterans’ writings produced through a partnership with the veteran-focused arts organization Warrior Writers.

Collaborators & Colleagues

Brenda Dixon Gottschild is Professor Emerita of dance studies at Temple University and a senior consultant and writer for Dance Magazine.

Thaddeus Phillips uses his two years on a telenovela as the jumping off point in The Incredibly Dangerous Astonishing Lucrative and Potentially Completely TRUE Adventures of Barry Seal.

At the February launch of the Center’s new multimedia online publication, A Steady Pulse: Restaging Lucinda Childs, 1963–78, Lucinda Childs and Judy Hussie-Taylor, executive director of Danspace Project, discussed Childs’ career and artistic influences.

Grants & Grantees

Internationally noted artist Michael Rakowitz will weave the stories of local Iraq War veterans and Iraqi refugees, cultural traditions, music, and found sound into a participatory performance at Independence Mall, combined with a ten-episode radio program for a national audience, providing an intimate, multifaceted, and sustained portrait of Iraq.

Dove encourages artists to dance in unusual places. Why? Out of necessity, he says.

Collaborators & Colleagues

Elizabeth (Elee) Wood, M.Ed., Ph.D., is a practitioner and scholar in the field of informal and non-formal learning in museums and community settings. She served as a Center heritage panelist in 2012.

A recreation of 18 rarely-performed cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach will be performed as originally intended: in an arc spanning the Christian church calendar and the seasons.

Collaborators & Colleagues

Mike Ladd is a poet, performer, and librettist.

An artist talk with Michael Rakowitz, who will discuss his participatory performance and radio project, A Desert Home Companion.

Collaborators & Colleagues

Hema Rajagopalan is a bharata natyam dancer, teacher, and choreographer, and the founder and artistic director of Natya Dance Theatre, a professional touring company and school that has specialized in bharata natyam for the past 40 years. Rajagopalan served as a 2015 LOI panelist in Performance.