about this film project


D-Man is a documentary film about art resurrecting life. 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. Jones’ tour-de-force, D-Man in the Waters. Bill T. Jones is arguably the most socially, politically and emotionally compelling choreographer alive today. Twenty-seven 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 an oft forgotten history.

Bill T. Jones and seven of his former dancers remember returning to the studio in 1988, reeling from the recent loss of co-director, Arnie Zane, to AIDS. In the face of their grief they began to make a new dance called Waters. But only weeks into rehearsals, a beloved member of the company, Demian “D-Man” Acquavella, was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS. In an extraordinary series of interviews, in archival material, and using uniquely powerful dance cinematography of the present day company, the film traces the making of the dance over the next six months.

The dance was created as Demian’s 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. Renamed, D-Man in the Waters in honor of Demian’s valiant struggle, the dance brought a battle-scarred company, the New York intelligentsia, Demian’s Brooklyn-Italian family, and Demian himself, to that transformative and controversial boundary between life and art.

The film begins in a dance studio in 2016 where former Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company dancer, Rosalynde LeBlanc, begins to teach D-Man in the Waters to nine university student dancers. As the dancers learn the material, we get to know them as individuals. We see their difficulties in reaching the history that gave birth to the dance, and eventually how their understanding deepens.

In present day, the ensemble struggles to reinvigorate a dance that has absorbed the spirit and complexity of a time they did not live through. In the climax of the film, this group of students, for whom AIDS is not a body memory, rehearses with Bill T. Jones, whose body moves with the weight of a lost generation. By opening night, these young people go from imitating steps to embodying a real call to action. They discover what galvanizes their generation in 2016 with the urgency that the AIDS crisis did in 1989.

D-Man is a story of resurrection, then and now. In this lyrical documentary, the past and present collide and converge in images, memories and movement, to reveal the stories beneath the surface of this most successful dance of the Bill T. Jones canon. D-Man will transcend the genre of dance documentary, letting dance be the story and serve the story in dynamic and visceral sequences that allow history, once lived, to move again.