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.

The Mann Center for the Performing Arts presents a diverse range of programming in a beautiful park setting.

The Conservation Center for Arts & Historic Artifacts is one of the country’s largest non-profit conservation labs.

Collaborators & Colleagues

Jean Isaacs is the artistic director of San Diego Dance Theater and the founder of Trolley Dances.

A performance piece interpreting classical South Indian music and dance, inspired by themes of liberty and freedom drawn from Philadelphia’s history.

Collaborators & Colleagues

Bill T. Jones is an artist, choreographer, dancer, theater director and writer, as well as the founder of Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane and executive artistic director New York Live Arts.

Grants & Grantees

Zoe Strauss is a visual artist and a 2005 Pew Fellow.

We speak with Xavier—2013 Pew Fellow, hip-hop dancer, and Post-it aficionado—whose recent work The Unofficial Guide to Audience Watching Performance was hailed by Dance Magazine as “artful and mesmerizing.”

Collaborators & Colleagues

Stephanie Smith joined the Smart Museum of Art, Chicago, in 1999, and is now deputy director and chief curator.

Grants & Grantees

Todd Noe is a sculptor and a 1996 Pew Fellow.

Grants & Grantees

A retrospective of selected dances by Trisha Brown, an internationally known leader of post-modernism and an enduring renegade whose work has rarely been seen in Philadelphia.

Collaborators & Colleagues

Michael Rohd is founding artistic director of Sojourn Theatre, an ensemble-based company in Portland, Oregon that explores the intersection of theater with democracy.

The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage announced its 2014 grants in support of Philadelphia’s arts and cultural community today. They include 12 new Pew Fellowships of $60,000 each, 35 project grants in amounts up to $300,000, and two Advancement grants of $500,000 each.