I Do Thee Wed

1.18.2012

By Bjorn Amelan and Bill T. Jones

Two artistic men who have crafted an imaginative life together.

Bill T. Jones, right, and Bjorn Amelan found a second chapter in love after both losing their long-term partners. Jones is most identified with Arnie Zane, with whom he cofounded Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. But he’s spent the last 20 years living and collaborating with Amelan, who had a long romantic and professional relationship with famed fashion designer Patrick Kelly before he died. Since they met in Paris, the two have successfully entwined their creative work and domestic lives.

BJORN AMELAN
Sculptor, designer
I have worked with artists all my life. I was a successful fashion photographers’ agent, then I met Patrick and saw I could help him and gave up the photographers. I saw myself as a facilitator for the work of artists. I never trusted myself with my own work. It’s easier to say, “You’re a genius,” than to say, “I’m a genius.”

I was trying to publish a book about Patrick. I read this interview with Bill in a magazine, and he was speaking about dealing with grief -- which I was living through -- and it really touched me. So I thought to myself, This guy is interesting. I’d like to meet with him and discuss this book project. It took a while -- he was in New York, I was in Paris -- but eventually we spoke on the phone. He told me he was going to be in Paris. We met February 16, 1992. We were supposed to have brunch, but that brunch turned into a whole day.

Bill encouraged me so that, now, I am able to say, “I am a sculptor. I design sets for the dance company.” But when I came in, it was to help him organize his work and the whole structure of his life. He was going to be the artist, and I was going to be the support structure.

The pieces you see in the house are a combination of pieces that we brought with us, and things that evolved out of the relationship. It started with me moving into Bill and Arnie’s place, which looked very different. I take responsibility for designing the space. It’s something that I do. It’s just a natural propensity and falls in place that way. It’s a work in progress.

BILL T. JONES
Choreographer, dancer, director
As you can see around this room, it looks a bit like a shrine [to our former companions]. That chair’s from Arnie. On the floor there is Patrick by Pierre et Gilles. That was one of the first things we agreed on without having to speak about it: to never feel that those two persons were exiled. They live with us. It’s very important. Very healing. That was the mantra of our generation after the first major onslaught of AIDS, after we realized there was a chance we might live: OK, what do we do with the past? Let the past be what it is. Those things are important. You don’t have to throw them away. There’s no disloyalty. We wonder sometimes if Patrick and Arnie might like each other better than Bjorn and Arnie or me and Patrick. I wonder.

I was told by an older man on my board, “You had your great love -- Arnie Zane. That’s over. Now you’ve gotta get serious. Whatever you do now has got to be about your work, your company.”

That was the attitude that I came to Bjorn with. I said, “This is the deal.” Well, it didn’t stay that way, of course.

Falling in love is different when you’re in your forties than when you’re in your late teens or twenties. First of all, everything at that time has a big hard-on connected with it. Sex! But also, it was like impulse, and appetite. When you’ve had a relationship of 18 years, and that person is over and you’re starting another one, you’re aware of something happening. Oh, what is this? Why do I feel constantly giddy? Oh, this is what they mean by falling in love.

I encouraged Bjorn to make stuff. And after a while, he began to think like a maker. His whole thing can’t be about me. I need a lot, but I want you to need you. Then we can love more deeply. We have something to talk about. And, once it caught fire, things just began to pour out of him -- still are.

The idea of gay marriage... We thought about it 15 years ago. We went to Maya Angelou; in fact, she was going to officiate. Now that it’s possible, we look at ourselves and say, “Yeah, we’ll get around to it. We will get married.” Maybe it’s the best way.

If we get married, it’s for the legal reasons. I don’t feel a need for it emotionally. I love him with all of my heart. Marriage is a public acknowledgment. And doing this is more a part of that. So, in a way, in this article, I guess we’re saying, “I do thee wed -- in the public imagination.” Yeah.

As told to Jerry Portwood

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