Quilty Pleasures

"These pieces -- well, they're kind of strange," laughs choreographer and former Arizona State University dance teacher Marion Kirk Jones. "But don't put that in the article."

By "strange," Jones means diverse works ranging from Arachne, about the weaver who dared to challenge Athena and was turned into a spider for her impudence, to a piece explaining the theories of Malthus, a 17th-century philosopher who believed population growth would destroy the world. "We have one woman in the beginning. She meets a man, then more dancers come out until the stage is full," explains Jones. "They start out sweet and loving, but they get nuttier and more crazy." There's also an excerpt from Jones' Sister Moses, about Harriet Tubman. The full piece has run for 10 years at Desert Dance Theatre, a company started by a former student of Jones.

All together, six pieces choreographed by Jones comprise Eros, Malthus and Arachne, to be performed this weekend by Desert Dance Theatre. The event is a fund raiser for the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which was started in the backyard by Jones' son Cleve, an Arizona native. Now the world's largest public art project, the Quilt, or NAMES Project, began in 1985 at a candlelight vigil commemorating the 1978 assassinations of San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone, when Cleve Jones asked gay rights activists to write down the names of loved ones who were victims of AIDS and post them at San Francisco's federal building.

The names covering the building looked like a patchwork quilt, which gave Cleve the idea of covering the National Mall with names. He made the first panel of the quilt commemorating his best friend, and over the next two years, received panels from all over the country. Some had photos, some depictions of treasured possessions. Others merely read as an epitaph, a name and date followed by "In Loving Memory." The quilt was displayed on the Mall in 1987. At the time, it was 1,920 panels in size. Now it is more than 50,000.

"For many years, we saw AIDS death rates go down," says Cleve. "But those treatments are not a cure." New concerns stem from 2002's rise in newly diagnosed cases of HIV in the U.S. -- the first in a decade -- and the emergence of multi-drug resistant strains. Marion Kirk Jones originally came up with the idea of joining her work to her son's. "I thought maybe this would be a good thing that would get an audience and make some money for the quilt," she says.

The goal is to return the quilt to the National Mall before the 2004 election. "This is the world's largest ever pandemic," says Cleve. "I would like the government to answer that -- particularly the commitment to fighting global AIDS."

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Quetta Carpenter