John Jasperse Company

"Giant Empty"

Brooklyn Academy of Music's Harvey Lichtenstein Theater, Brooklyn, NY

November 20, 2001
By Susan Kelly

Was the glass half-empty or half-full at John Jasperse's performance at BAM's Harvey Theater, entitled Giant Empty? The piece only came to life for me halfway through, but parts of the second half were stunning, including a duet for Jasperse and Miguel Gutierrez, and Jasperse's solo.

The stage is set initially with a trail of wooden blocks of various lengths, standing on end, that looked like a rough approximation of the island of Manhattan. (But the piece was first shown last May, well before the Sept. 11 disaster.)

Juliette Mapp crosses the stage using the blocks as stepping stones. She's joined by the rest of the company--Parker Lutz, Jasperse and Gutierrez--in dancing that's dominated by forceful arm movements. There's a nice duet for Jasperse and Gutierrez in which they maintain contact at the neck and a solo in which Mapp vibrates with tension. But mostly the movement is limited in range and dynamics, and seems dull in spite of the tension-inducing industrial noise that accompanies it.

Things pick up when Mapp comes on with a pile of clothes. She ties some pieces of clothing onto her, stuffs other pieces of clothing into those, and ends up a mass of lumps. As she adds clothes, Gutierrez walks in without any and freezes in a one-legged stance on a wooden block. Eventually all the dancers are lumpily attired and doing a sporadic dance that features abrupt falls. Once again the production loses steam. The appearance of 5 or 6 oscillating ropes, flown in from above, provides some distraction.

Jasperse and Gutierrez dive under a piece of the black linoleum that covers the stage and emerge naked. Their subsequent duet is slow and matter-of-fact, even when the juxtapositions become intimate: one man's cheek against the other's ass; one sliding the crack of his ass down the other's leg. The rhythm is even - move, pause, move, pause - but the various ways they put their bodies together are beautifully composed.

Gutierrez eventually exits, leaving Jasperse. A long, lean man who's usually impassive on stage, Jasperse seems a little warmer in his solo. Once again the choreography features arms, but his arm movements are softer than those earlier in the piece, and sometimes turn fanciful, with his hands describing little loops. His arms push him sideways across the stage and back, and he ends with a little wave to the audience.

The dancers return in their original costumes - tops and skirts for the women, tops and pants for the men. Kneeling, they seem to be tending the black stage flooring. Soon they're rewarded. The flooring puffs up, turning the stage into an air mattress. The dancers lounge, roll around and curl up on the cushiony floor. As the piece ends, Jasperse heads upstage, where the wooden blocks have ended in a pile, and starts building.

Jasperse is a nice dancer, but Gutierrez was the one to watch in Giant Empty as he flung himself into the choreography. Mapp is most effective when she's acting. It was wonderful to watch her checking her appearance in an imaginary mirror as she piled on the clothes.

The performance at BAM, which was co-produced by Ballett Frankfurt, was a step up for Jasperse from the smaller spaces where he had been performing. I liked some of his earlier pieces a lot and wondered whether the work had gotten lost in the bigger space. Giant Empty also had less of the activities that Jasperse used so effectively in earlier dances, in which the dancers worked busily away arranging books, unpacking a suitcase or climbing on furniture. The piece he made last year for White Oak was pure dance, but I liked it more than Giant Empty, maybe because of the greater technical expertise of the White Oak dancers. Perhaps a larger movement vocabulary would help if Jasperse is going to move in the direction of pure movement with his own company.


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Edited by Marie.

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