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John Jasperse

'just two dancers'

Back to Brecht

by Rosella Simonari

July 22, 2004 -- Teatro Piccolo Arsenale, Venice

Two stretched lacy pieces of cloth segmenting the stage in width, a slant clearly defined 'v' shaped retro touch of white against a dark coloured background. And ordinary mirrors handed over to every single member of the audience as soon as we get in the Piccolo Arsenale theatre. Our eyes still filled with the Armitage's glitter and street style in her "Echoes from the Street". The shift into this air conditioned larger space is nice and refreshing. After a few minutes one notices that the stalls are fractured, in their linear rows, by a set of mini stages scattered around in a discomposed manner.

Karole Armitage introduces John Jasperse by saying that he represents one of the most innovative choreographers in the U.S. dance panorama. Then the performance begins and a sense of inadequacy overcomes the audience: all the lights are kept on. Chris Peck and Regina Sadowski, the two musicians, sit on the left handside of the bare stage, Jasperse and Juliette Mapp enter the stage but do not stop there, they move forward towards the mini stages among the discomposed audience: a sacred border is being dissolved, an invasion of privacy permeates the air. They take two chairs and sit in front of each other. Their hands meet and get intertwined together. Soon they move to different platforms, their distance grows in spite of their mirroring movements. At this stage the audience guess what to do with the little mirrors. Mapp is at the back of the whole theatre and if one intends to keep the frontal posture he/she has to use the mediation of the mirror to catch her dancing.

It is interesting to note that I refrain from using the 'I' pronoun or the impersonal to present this piece, I do feel a sense of collectiveness within this performance, I do feel engaged as a 'we' and not as an 'I'…The lights are still full on, I exchange a quick glance with the blonde lady beside me, after a while the mirror reveals to be a kind of trick, she decides to employ it to check out her make-up, Mapp and Jasperse are moving at an unsustainably slow-motion. He wears a long sleeved shirt of a grey purple shade and a pair of grey trousers. Juliette Mapp a purplish top with a skirt of the same colour, both add a retro flavour to the retro visual impact of the lacy cloth on stage. A lacy curtain is in perpetual motion in the back, where Mapp is now moving, a fan produces an artificial suspended wind.

The dance articulation is fragmented and discontinuous, they move again together in the front platforms endlessly jumping with their feet in parallel. The sound of the electric violin played by Sadowski is replaced by a more commercial hip-hop -- it sounds like the Beastie Boys. They scream hysterically; he goes in the back mini-stage to perform a neurotic 'dance of the fly-killing'. I use this expression to illustrate his attmpt to catch something in the air, his arm movements soon grow into a frantic shaking of the upper body. He seems to be wanting to fly himself, as Armitage had suggested in her quick introduction.

"just two dancers" is an unusual kind of performance. It is interesting for what Bertolt Brecht used to call the 'alienation effect' it produces in the audience. You are constantly aware of the structure framing the piece because some of the taken for granted 'rules' of theatre are broken, such as the dancing between, or I should say above, the audience or even the use of lights which are not devised to focus on the dance in its own terms as they leave the choice open. Given the involvement of the audience I wish there had been a bigger stimulus, maybe with a more active use of the little mirrors on the audience's part. Last but not least, the dance vocabulary was not very engaging.  The slow movement phrases combined with the repetition of very simple steps resulted in an impoverished and flat deconstruction. A real pity as both the two dancers seemed to have magnetic potential.


Edited by Jeff.

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