Bill Evans returns to New Mexico for On Turning 70!, a performance of modern and tap styles that celebrates Evans’ 70th birthday. Evans is an emeritus professor of dance and former head of the dance department at the University of New Mexico and is a guest artist and undergraduate program director at The College at Brockport, State University of New York. He returns to New Mexico, where he taught at UNM for 16 years, with a program of modern dance and ballet.
How long has it been since you’ve visited New Mexico?
Oh boy, I think it may be three years. It's unbelievable. For the past two summers I wasn't able to go perform in the New Mexico Tap Dance Jam, which I established many years ago.
Why did you decide to throw yourself a birthday concert?
I actually started performing on my birthday, consciously, when I turned 40. So, as a tradition I've continued over the years. Every birthday I've had a performance of some kind. I turned 70 on April 11, and I performed here at the State University of New York Brockport on my actual birthday ... this year I decided to extend the birthday celebration and take it to New Mexico because so much of my life was spent there. I also took it to Winnipeg, where I had a long relationship before I moved to New Mexico.
When you started dancing, did you ever think you’d still be doing it at 70?
Most of the people I grew up dancing with in my younger years stopped dancing in their 40s, it seems. That was the time when most of them, usually because they were injured in various ways, just found it wasn't pleasurable anymore to keep dancing. But I've just been very fortunate and been able to carry on performing continuously.
“I dance and choreograph from a very personal place.”
How would you describe your style of dance?
In my own work, my own choreography, I combine modern dance and rhythm tap. My reputation is based mostly on my work as a modern dancer and choreographer. I've always been a tap dancer, and in recent years tap has become more and more important to me.
Do you always combine forms when you dance?
One of the things I do as a tap dancer is to revive the great classics of rhythm tap that were created by the African-American artists who established the art form. So there's a huge part of my life that has been in restaging and reconstructing historic rhythm tap dances.
Tap seems to be regaining popularity.
It's a wonderful art form. It actually has had a couple of renaissances. It almost completely disappeared in the ’50s and ’60s, and then in the late ’60s and ’70s there was a renaissance, and then in the late ’80s there was a greater renaissance of tap. Right now Savion Glover is an internationally known celebrity as a tap dancer. He's done a lot to keep tap in the public consciousness. There are a number of wonderful young tap artists, kind of inspired by Savion Glover, who are on the scene. I hope that some of them have his same chance at celebrity.
How is your dance style unique?
I think first and foremost, it's humanist in its nature. I dance and choreograph from a very personal place. Usually people who see my performances talk about being moved emotionally in a number of ways. I really celebrate my life, and life, through my dance. It's not objectified or abstract so much as it is personal and expressive of deep feelings I have. It's a very expansive style physically and very vigorous. It uses lots of space and it's physically very demanding and very connected to music.
Will you have any live music at your performance?
A woman who danced in my company for many, many years, Sara Hutchinson, is going to perform. She's not only a wonderful dancer but also a jazz singer, and in one of my pieces she's going to sing jazz, scat singing while I perform.
There’s another Bill Evans who is famous in the arts world. Have you ever been mistaken for him?
In 1978 and ’79 Bill Evans, the jazz musician, and I collaborated on performances in Seattle. Those are among the highlights of my whole life as an artist. We were in the midst of a third presentation, which we were going to take on a tour of Japan, when he died in 1980. I miss him greatly and the opportunity to work with him was very important to me. We got together initially because we were both touring in the ’70s and often I would be in a city and open the paper and it would say, “Bill Evans in concert,” meaning him, and then you'd read down under the dance listings and see me, Bill Evans in concert. More than once I had people show up at my concerts thinking they were going to hear him. So we got together one day and I told him about this experience, and because we shared the same name we decided to get together and collaborate.
How has your work changed over the years?
Of course, as one ages one can't be as physically vigorous as at earlier ages. But honestly, I'm still performing dances I choreographed many years ago. Each year I kind of reconsider them, but at the concert in Albuquerque I'll be performing a piece that I first performed when I was 40 years old, so that was 30 years ago, and I'm still able to do it pretty well. The other pieces have been choreographed in the years since then, one was choreographed just this past December. So when one sees the concert they'll see just how my work has evolved over the years. It's become more theatrical, less about more pure and exuberant movement and more about theatricality over the years.