Journal

John Jasperse | Belief in Dance Oct 19, 2007

by Sara E

I was looking forward to this show, but honestly thought it might wax heavy handed or overly serious. Just two dancers in 2004 blew my mind, but watching it was a little bit of work ”¦ kind of like a difficult math equation where the process is cathartic and stimulating and when you find the answer you feel like a genius, but there were brow-furrowing moments that left me stumped and introspective. Misuse liable to prosecution adopts a similar conceptual rigor but viscerally, the show is an indulgent delight – elegant, precise and highly entertaining.

CONCEPT - As I understand it, John wanted to make a piece about capital and the perceived worth of humans, trash, art and belongings (my words, not his). Consequently, he found or stole all of the costumes, props and set items used in the production.

SET - The trash and detritus they amassed through dumpster diving and illicit means were re-appropriated into a haunting and gorgeous set where a mass of orange extension chords made a long orange knit net, while discarded and mis-matched hangers were joined and suspended in little architectural masses.

LIGHTING - The set was beautifully lit by Joe Levasseur (in collaboration with Jasperse). The lighting was stunning and worth mentioning, but I hate to spoil the effects it by trying to describe them here, so really, you should just go see it. They were simple but surprising and just exquisite.

COSTUMES - One of the press photos for Misuse features 2 guys in underwear with jeans. I had been looking forward to seeing the colorful briefs in action and was almost disappointed that those costumes were cut from the premiere last night. It was an almost-disappointment that was swiftly forgotten as I stared transfixed at how they had opted instead to fashion loincloths out of old t-shirts. It was a little absurd to see all of these fit dancers in ill-fitting and awkward jeans, which provided an extra special excitement when they were removed. Zeena Parkins (whose score totally rocked) was decked out in a Judy-Jetson-ish dress made from Fed Ex package wrappers. It was divine.

A friend recently told me that good writing has the tension of being able to critique and praise at once – to acknowledge the positive and the negative spins on things – to push buttons. I’d love to be critical in my writing about this show but I’m finding it really difficult. The only negative I had watching was in figuring out whether the concepts being explored were successfully translating to the movement vocabulary. Did the exaggerated awkward leaps, or balanced broomsticks, or sensual floor work, or fierce body slamming represent literal or abstracted interpretations of capitalism? If so, how?

But thinking more about it, this is where I start to wonder if John is a genius. As an internationally recognized choreographer he’s earned a reputation for creating interesting movement vocabularies and connecting them to well thought out concepts and a great visual design. Watching Misuse ”¦ it occurs to me that his exploration of his concepts is SO well executed throughout the whole production (sets, props, costumes, lighting, music) that all these elements are able to provide an entry point – an accessible framework – for even the most skeptical viewer to be able to absorb dance. Most people I know find dance hard to watch and nearly impossible to understand with authority. Unless it’s perfect unerring movement, a lot of people seem to write off dance as a hoity-toity indulgent endeavor. Watching Misuse ”¦ I felt like dance was relevant again. A concept that impacts us all was propped up by this creation in a way that was intriguing and allowed me to just be present, thoughtful and at ease as the dance washed over me. It wasn’t about  “getting ” what every movement meant. Rather it was about letting the movement be a texture to let my mind process the back stories and concepts set up from the get-go.

For an hour, John renewed my belief that dance is able to transcend and viscerally take over a space in the exploration of something transcendent. It was pretty wonderful to watch.

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