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Flash Review 3, 6-5: Excessories to the Dance
Jasperse Jousts with the Body Dance

by Susan Yung
Copyright 2000 Susan Yung

In previous works I've seen by John Jasperse, his experimentations seemed to me a charming and fascinating discourse on the body and human invention/s. In the double bill seen at The Kitchen Friday, which included the premiere of "Fort Blossom," I saw his willingness to surpass societal norms and explore possibly uncomfortable psychological turf at the risk of testing the patience and comprehension of the audience.

"Excessories" (1995) purports to deal with the body and its surface as a canvas, and it permitted Jasperse plenty of opportunities to play with familiar objects and body parts in completely new ways. We saw it right from the top -- a riveting sequence of hand/arm gestures lit with a river of light from which the dancers scoop armfuls. Another scene features Jasperse bound in a mask, wrist and ankle cuffs. He's wheeled in on a chair, dumped, flipped and cantilevered about the stage by Miguel Gutierrez, and is finally left lying on his side to sing an aria, which ends abruptly when his mouth slit is zippered. The other dancers (Larry Keigwin, Parker Lutz, and Juliette Mapp) -- all stupendous in sometimes incredibly demanding situations -- eventually wind up with bound arms or legs, just to level the terrain. They manage just fine.

The original soundtrack by James Lo was a concatenation of banal noises -- ambient crowd chatter, bowling, machinery, instrumentation played backward to an emotionally heightened crescendo. Remarkably, the dancers performed much of the hour-long piece in perfect synch with one another despite the apparent lack of an organized musical counting system, which in retrospect must certainly be more difficult than it appeared. One section performed to good old music evoked certain foreign theater-dance companies which employ street clothes and shoes for costumes; another characteristic of such companies is a masochistic slant, and in this segment the dancers took turns lying on the floor, being literally danced on by others, oblivious. The section ended with a frantic line dance including breasts and penises. The ponderous sense of confrontation was balanced by an amazing section involving stretchy red over-garments and linen undershirts (designed by Jasperse and Katrin Schnabl), where the dancers inserted limbs into the sleeves of others, like creatures co-opting the nests or shells of others for their own use.

"Fort Blossom" is defined by grating industrial noises and diffuse light from big heavy-duty fixtures. (Philip Sandstrom designed the lighting; Michael Floyd mixed the sparse, irritating sound.) The women wore sleek pumpkin dresses; Gutierrez and Jasperse danced nude, and much of their movement consisted of lying down and wriggling across the stage using anything but human locomotion. Inflated ottomans function variously as cushions, backpacks, intercourse interfacing, etc. The men perform a post-coital duet with their bodies' nooks and crannies normally reserved for lovers or doctors -- more exploration by Jasperse, but without costumes and apparently to the limits of the container of the skin. This is an alien world -- intense, airless, suffocating, and at once fascinating -- yet nothing was stronger than the feeling of relief I felt when the lights finally went out.

With antics like these, it's easy to overlook the sheer ingenuity of Jasperse's unique movement vocabulary. If one were to completely eliminate the use of props, it's difficult to know how the movement alone would stand, but I'd bet it would be fine. There are, in fact, long passages of complex, dense, phrases of actions and reactions, where seemingly no move is performed without an impetus from another dancer. These chains of dance are so confident and natural looking, yet at the same time totally innovative and new. At times the dancers' interactions evoke wrestling matches, which can appear scripted yet of course unfold moment by moment. Or the way animals communicate by nudging, leaning, and head butting, or by other non-verbal ways. (It has a distinct aesthetic that is immediately recognizable, similar to the way William Forsythe's work is unmistakable in still photos.) There is a purposefulness with each move, and Jasperse's work embodies that organic economy.

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