about this film project
“Can You Bring It: Bill T. Jones and D-Man in the Waters” is a feature-length documentary film that uses the story of a dance to illustrate the triumph of the human spirit in art and in community.
It starts with a group of dance students learning one of the most important works of art to come out of the age of AIDS -- Bill T. Jonesʼs tour-de-force, “D-Man in the Waters.” Bill T. Jones is arguably the most socially, politically and emotionally compelling choreographer alive today. Thirty years ago he embedded stories of risk and sacrifice, love, loss and resurrection in the choreography for “D-Man in the Waters.” Today, by learning the dance, a new generation reinvigorates the spirit of a community fighting to survive.
The film begins in a dance studio in 2016 where former Bill T. Jones Company dancer, Rosalynde LeBlanc, begins to teach “D-Man in the Waters” to university student dancers. As the dancers learn the material, we get to know them as individuals. We see their struggles in learning the choreography and understanding the historical context that gave birth to the dance. What can they find in their own lives that joins them, in spirit, to the time of the plague of AIDS?
In the early eighties, the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company was at the forefront of the creative energy spurred by gay liberation. Yet, just at the height of this ecstatic season, AIDS began its inexorable decimation. In 1988, Arnie Zane, Bill’s lover and co-director, died of AIDS-related lymphoma and the future of the company was thrown into question. Facing down immobilizing grief, Bill T. Jones resolved to keep the company alive. Now, choreographing alone, he turned his attention to the creation of a new dance using movement images of water and wave action.
In the company at that time was Demian Acquavella, known as “D-Man,” a nickname that spoke both to his superhero physique and to the affection that he elicited from all who knew him. But that physique began to waste away when Demian was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS only months after Arnie’s death. As the dance was choreographed, Demianʼs health deteriorated, and what started as a lighthearted ballet about the movement of water became a penetrating comment on surviving the deluge of a plague. Galvanized by Demian’s struggle, and the struggle of countless others around him who were contracting AIDS, Jones expanded the dance into four fervent movements and named it “D-Man in the Waters.” The dance would go on to become Bill T. Jones’s biggest hit, but not without bringing a battle-scarred company, the art world intelligentsia, and Demian himself, to that transformative and controversial boundary between life and art.
In present day, the ensemble struggles to inhabit a dance that is the most physically demanding that they have ever done, and also rooted in the spirit and complexity of a time they did not live through. This group of students, for whom AIDS is not a body memory, eventually rehearses with Bill T. Jones, whose body moves with the weight of a lost generation. He challenges them to discover what galvanizes their community in 2016 with the urgency that the AIDS crisis did in 1989; he implores them to “Bring it!” By opening night, will these young people go from imitating the steps of the past to embodying their own generation’s call to action?