For a dancer, Bill T. Jones has a long and very public history. Now in his early 50s, he still heads the company he started 20 years ago with his lover Arnie Zane–who still gets equal billing despite his death in 1988 of an AIDS-related illness. But then the mythology of the company–the tragically cut-off relationship between Jones and Zane, Jones’s own HIV-positive status–is a big part of its identity. So is controversy. This is the group that in 1992 brought us Jones’s corrosive commentary on racism–and some 50 nude locals–in Last Supper at Uncle Tom’s Cabin/The Promised Land. Still/Here, the company’s 1994 work based on interviews with mentally ill people, was dismissed as “victim art” by New Yorker critic Arlene Croce, who refused even to view the piece. There’s been plenty of debate about whether Jones is the genius he’s sometimes made out to be, but over the past few years he’s kept a lower profile; his last performances in Chicago, in 2000, were solo. Whatever your position on his talent, he’s undeniably a charismatic and important late-20th-century choreographer. This week he returns to town with two programs of old and new works. The first program (October 23 and the evening of October 25) includes the new Mercy 10 x 8 on a Circle; 1982’s Duet x 2; last year’s There Were…, reworked from 1993’s There Were So Many; and Power/Full, a 2002 ensemble version of a 1995 solo, both set to a speech by a televangelist and an eerily Middle Eastern-sounding kyrie. Watching Power/Full on tape, I found it noticeably stiffer and more angular, more intellectual, than the 1980 piece I also saw on tape, Blauvelt Mountain (a Fiction). A duet originally performed by Jones and Zane, the latter has a colloquial feel: the movement phrases are conversational, and the dancers even exchange words in free-associated interchanges. Though self-indulgently long, Blauvelt Mountain does a great job of re-creating the intimacy, the patterns and idiosyncrasies, of a lasting relationship. It’s one of three dances on the second program (October 24 and a newly added matinee on October 25), which also includes Mercy 10 x 8 on a Circle and There Were…. Dance Center of Columbia College, 1306 S. Michigan, 312-344-8300. Opens Thursday, October 23, 8 PM. Through October 25: Friday, 8 PM; Saturday, 3 and 8 PM. $20 Thursday; $24 Friday and Saturday. Note: There will be a discussion with the artists after Thursday’s performance, and Jones will talk with audience members at 7 PM on Friday.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Lois Greenfield.