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Flash Review, 1-17: Horror and Humor
Jasperse's Rube Goldberg Contraptions

By Ursula Eagly
Copyright 2001 Ursula Eagly

The John Jasperse Company mesmerized last night's packed Joyce Theater with "Waving to You from Here" (1997) and "Scrawl" (1999). In both works, four dancers move angularly to the accompaniment of James Lo's soundscapes. Quirky use of props amplifies the geometric and pedestrian aspects of their motion. The dancing is precise without being virtuosic. Neither piece is emotive; nor is it unemotional. The performers' interactions suggest interpersonal influence, manipulation, dependence, and codependence.

Jasperse was brought into the broad public spotlight after Mikhail Baryshnikov recently commissioned a piece for his White Oak Dance Company. The choreographer has earned a reputation for making thoughtful dances. His work can be enjoyed and scrutinized on many levels and from dozens of angles, be they kinetic, aesthetic, political, or emotional.

"Waving to You from Here" matches characteristic Rube Goldberg machine-like movements with the familiar sounds of bouncing ping pong balls, chirping insects, and cheering sports announcers. Dancers sit, walk, and fall on a set of wooden bleachers upstage center. They stack and carry newspapers, books, and brown paper packages. A "ceiling" made of squares of iridescent scrim descends upon the group and finally falls on them.

In "Scrawl," dancers unroll what look like long yoga mats to the sound of computerized recitations. Throughout much of the piece, a digitized voice chants phrases involving pairs: "meat and potatoes," "peace and quiet," "ladies and gentlemen," "Johnson and Johnson," "women and minorities." As the dancers perform duets, viewers consider the many possible relationships between the partners. "Scrawl" also ends on a menacing note, when the voice completes a tirade with the frightening, if also comic accusation, "You will never amount to anything." This deadpan pairing of horror and humor lies at the heart of much of Jasperse's work.

John Jasperse Company's Joyce program repeats Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. The Saturday performance is followed by a talk with the artists. For more information, please visit the Joyce web site.

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