Professor John Gamble
July 24, 2011
Bill T. Jones and the Last Supper at Uncle Tom's
Cabin/ The Promised Land
William Tass Jones was born on February 15, 1952, in Bunnell, Florida. He and his family
moved north as part of the the Great Migration in the first half of the twentieth century. They settled
in Wayland, New York, where Jones attended Wayland High School. He discovered dance while in
college on a sports scholarship at Binghamton University and soon began studying classical ballet and
modern dance. It was here that he met Arnie Zane, a photographer who was to become his partner and
collaborator. Together they studied ...view middle of the document...
promised land is the body, freed from prejudices that sometimes seem to be society's currency.
Jones starts by attacking racism, in a section called “The Cabin”. He looks at Harriet Beecher
Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, whose abolitionist message contributed to the civil War. I believe that
Jones ids delighted by the stereotypes that fill the novel; the impossibly saintly Uncle Tom himself,
who refuses to run away with the slave Eliza; the slave owner Haley, who takes pride in the fact that
he only puts fetters on Tom's ankles instead of on both his ankles and hands; Haley's slaves Sam and
Andy, who interfere with his pursuit of Eliza by pretending stupidity; the gentleman slave owner St.
Clare, who buys Tom for his daughter Eva but neglects to free him when Eva dies; Sr. Clare's wife,
Marie, who fears the black slaves and says that they always steal; the abolitionist northerner Ophelia,
for whom St. Clare buys the African slave Topsy to see if Ophelia can really love the Negroes. The va-
riety of stereotypes that Jones invokes establishes that everyone, black and white, is implicated in our
widespread and varied system of racism.
Jones goes through Uncle Tom's Cabin at lightning speed, a technique that limits the novel's
melodramatic appeal. Most of the dancing takes place in small striped tent, as if it were part of a min-
strel show. Most of the dancers wear cartoonish masks; Simon Legree looks like a gorilla face. Harriet
Beecher Stowe narrates the story from outside the tent. Because of the narrative focus of this section
Jones limits movements to gestures and to a “Jim Crow dance “ like a buck dancer's shuffle.
After the story ends, with Tom's death, the dancers perform every movement backward but with-
out speaking, so it looks as if the audience is seeing a videotape being rewound. Jones “stops” at the
scene where Simon Legree whips Uncle Tom; Legree then strikes every dancer in turn as they line up.
The dancers have removed their masks, so that the audience can see people instead of characters.
Jones now turns from the story of Uncle Tom's Cabin to explore the point of view...