grist for the mill

A not-so-secret research cache

Monday, February 02, 2004


The Sincerest Form of Flannery: "Bill T. Jones is no stranger to controversy. A few years ago, in support of an N.A.A.C.P. boycott protesting the flying of the Confederate flag atop the statehouse in South Carolina, he refused to perform at the Spoleto Festival. His 'Still Here,' a performance piece that included photographs of people suffering from terminal illnesses, was famously criticized in a 1994 New Yorker essay by Arlene Croce, who called it 'victim art.' She declined to see the production.
Starting on Tuesday, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company will present the New York premiere of a 45-minute work provocatively titled 'Reading, Mercy and the Artificial Nigger.' It is based on 'The Artificial Nigger,' a complex and beguiling short story by Flannery O'Connor, which is read aloud during the performance. (Susan Sarandon and Mr. Jones will be the readers on opening night.)
The story opens with its main characters, Mr. Head and his 10-year-old grandson, Nelson, who live together in rural Georgia, preparing for a trip to Atlanta. Mr. Head sees the trip as an opportunity to teach his grandson a lesson about the sinful ways of the city, in hopes that he will never want to return. Nelson views the trip as a chance to see the place where he believes he was born. As Nelson becomes more infatuated with the wonders of the city, Mr. Head grows more distressed, and eventually abandons his grandson, both physically and emotionally. On their way to the train for the trip home, they encounter a mysterious plaster figure, a black boy about Nelson's size from which the story takes its title, and in a moment of revelation, they find the grace to restore the bond between them.
Mr, Jones, 51, discussed the work with Fletcher Roberts, an Arts & Leisure editor, after a recent "

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