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The Creative Process Behind “Fondly Do We Hope…”

I, along with a group of UMS Staffers, had the opportunity to see the premiere of Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray at the Ravinia Festival in September.  There was plenty for us to talk about after the show; both the artistic elements (the visual design, the movement, the strength of the dancers, the live music, the acting) and the narrative themes (Lincoln-as-saint, Lincoln-as-hero, Lincoln-as-human, Lincoln’s legacy and  relevance, how we understand history through our personal experiences, how we create heroes) were compelling.  I left feeling stimulated, intrigued, and curious.  Personally, I prefer artistic works  like this one that tackle complicated questions and meditate on them, but don’t arrive at any concrete conclusions.  The ambiguities in the performance ask me to draw my own conclusions, “to do the math” for myself, and to participate in the creative process along with the artist.   I realize though that this kind of contemporary dance performance, one in which both movements and language are abstracted, can seem cryptic and be incredibly frustrating for an audience.  You could easily walk away feeling like the usher forgot to issue your decoder ring along with your program.  Moreover, the creators of these works may mask their creative motives and processes.  As an audience member, finding a way in can be incredibly challenging.

One of the wonderful aspects of the Fondly… project is that the company has kept a blog that documents the show’s creative journey.  On the blog you can follow the company through the rehearsal process, the premiere, and, now, the tour.  The blog provides a rare glimpse into how the art is made, casting light on some of the more mysterious elements in the performance and providing both artistic and historical context.  If you’re going to see the show at the Power Center, you might want to browse through some of the entries to get sense of what you’re about to see.  On the other hand, I didn’t discover the blog until after the premier, so I’ve found that coming back to it has helped me to understand the performance more deeply.

Some highlights include Bill T. Jones himself commenting on the genesis of the project.  He reflects on the title, the way in which he collaborates with his dancers and technicians, and how he chose to focus on Lincoln’s legacy (particularly the choice to juxtapose the personal autobiographies of the dancers against Lincoln’s biography).  Bill summarizes his broad creative approach this way, ” I’m interested in something as concrete as language against something as fugitive as movement and what happens when they are juxtaposed or overlaid or interrogate each other.”

A few other video highlights from the blog:

And if you’d like to hear more from Bill, don’t miss his interview on the Bill Moyers Journal: