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John Jasperse

'California'

Fault lines

by Holly Messitt

December 7, 2004 -- Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, NY

One of the main reasons I enjoy seeing a John Jasperse productions is the way he uses metaphors. The last production of his I saw was “Just Two Dancers,” at Dance Theater Workshop in Spring 2003. There Jasperse and Juliette Mapp escaped the stage, moving for most of the piece along a plank that stretched to the back of the audience seating. Since the dancers were behind us much of the time, we were given mirrors, thereby pushing us to see the dancers from a new perspective.

“California ” is equally as intelligent. If “Just Two Dancers” made me think reflection, “California ” makes me think fragility. It is filled with images of connection and fracture. Jasperse has said that “California ” is about thwarted desire – what happens when things don’t turn out exactly as planned, about destruction and hope. All these things were present on stage, expressed through the movement, the music, the costuming, and the canopy-like sculpture from architect Ammar Eloueini.

As the piece began, the audience saw fractured bits of body as only the feet and shins of the dancers appeared. Their movement throughout, as well, was robotic. The dancers’ bodies appeared angular, but the pairing of the dancers revealed the unexpected connections. One trio, for example, remained linked as they moved from hug to struggle. The trio ended when one dancer moved to Jasperse and through their duet she removed his jumpsuit. Within the duet the two alternate supporting each other’s weight as they each moved through seemingly passive roles to active supporter and lifter.

In each of the stage’s four corners one piano and one percussionist sat creating fractured music, composed by Jonathan Bepler, to accompany this industrial world. This music was an intricate part of the piece as crackling wrappers and dropping golf balls created innovative sounds that played in stereo around the audience.

The jumpsuits that the dancers wore also contributed to the overall theme of “California.” Each of the jumpsuits had a zipper across the dancer’s waist, which they used to eventually shed the jumpsuits. In one scene near the end, four jumpsuits lay in a circle, discarded after the dancers pulled them off. Yet, even after they shed their jumpsuits, a time when Jasperse could have reached for the obvious metaphor – freedom from the outward expression of alienation – he resisted. The movement never changed.

The Eloueini sculpture, which takes up a good third of the stage, eventually is pulled into three separate pieces, the whole fractured into thirds. But the structure seemed more manageable after it was broken. Near the end of the piece, after the jumpsuits have been shed, the dancers break off into separate duets, solo, and trio. The image could have faded into one of simply fracture but did not. One couple near the front of the stage struggles together on the floor until they are underneath one section of the sculpture, which seems to house them.

So, “California ” remains an ambiguous piece: fracture and connection in both alternating and concurrent moments. Here, even though things fall apart, sometimes there is a new center to be found.

Edited by Jeff.

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