Special to The Denisonian
Paula Josa Jones’ career has been a long exploration of dance, choreography, writing, visual artistry and movement education.
On Thursday, March 23, Denison’s dance department welcomed Jones for an artist talk. Jones has won numerous fellowships throughout her career and been praised as “one of the country’s leading choreographic conceptualists” by the Boston Globe.
Character, theater, transformation, dreams and connections are all important to Jones, as she uses these terms as ideals that guide and inspire her creative work. Jones’ interests began in the theater, participating in various activities throughout her school years. After school, she moved on to exploring experimental theater where she was asked to perform in roles as characters that were very unlike her.
“[I] found that my body was resisting and [I] did not feel at home here, that there was this sense of urgency in my body as if it had me by the shirt telling me to find this passion,” said Jones.
This realization led her to begin exploring the art of dance. However, she didn’t enjoy having to experience the art through someone else’s movements, so she delved into the world of choreography.
Jones began to focus on only what was necessary in her dances versus what was arbitrary, and this idea of “authentic movement” continues to influence her self-work and how she teaches others.
She has been exploring and playing with gender for 25 years, and is very drawn to transforming and playing a character, saying that this exploration is a big part of her identity.
In one of her solo pieces, “Speak,” Jones takes on a character inspired by her 14-year-old autistic godson, and what 14 years of working with him and his caregivers has shown her about “what it means to speak without words,” and “what the urgency of language is.” Many of the movements in this piece were influenced from the movements of her godson, mimicking his unique spasms and stutters.
One of her group pieces, “Wonderland,” is a dark and twisted performance that was a cross-pollination between Alice in Wonderland and Bladerunner, where everyone in the piece played Alice at one point or another, using pots, pans, and teacups to add their own perspective to the two works.
Jones admits that she is “always looking for the next thing that’s going to call me,” when she describes her going on to have worked with horses — an unusual transition, some may think, from dance and authentic movement, to working with animals.
Jones began to ride again once an adult, yet wanted more than riding. She wanted to figure out how to deepen the relationship between humans and horses. She brought dancers in to see their connection with the horses in terms of movement with the horses despite their very different physicalities. Through this, she finds that “there is something amazing going on here, it was like some door was just blowing open.” This realization led to her desire to create a piece inspired by the film captured the day the encounters between the dancers and horses occurred.
Now, Jones works interdivisionally in terms of continuing to explore the relationship between humans, horses, and their movements, and uses it to influence her work and help her to teach others how she sees the world uniquely through a creative, surreal, and exploratory perspective.
After attending this talk, I am interested to see if Jones has “found her body” in working with horses, or what path this work may lead down next.