John Jasperse at OtB Oct 19, 2007
by Tania Kupczak
I love a choreographer who takes simple ideas, simple props and unassuming dancers and makes a complicated dance. I love John Jasperse. This is exactly what he does in Misuse liable to prosecution premiering at On the Boards. (I also love NY choreographers who premiere work in Seattle!) I walked in to the theater with a premonition that I would enjoy the evening. His work had always satisfied me in the past: two dancers (@ OtB), California (@ TBA) with that perfect combination of accessibility and braininess. Even though I have never met the man, I feel like he is my friend. My three year old saw the OtB postcard of John in his underwear, tangled in extension cords, and asked, “Is he your friend? ” Without hesitation I answered, “Yes, John is my friend. ” He is a friend because he makes great art and I’ve always felt invited into his work. For the OtB premiere, the stage is striped bare and gorgeously hung with giant billowing clusters of found objects: coat hangers, brooms, and extension cords. I was immediately curious about this atmosphere of waste made lovely. The sheer number of hangers would create quite a pile of worthless rubbish but I was now seeing them brought to the stage as art. John untangled himself from the extension cords, which he seemed to have been weaving into a net with his feet, and welcomed us to the show. Using an orange traffic cone as a bullhorn, he shared with us various statistics about the cost of art, the edges of excess and the climate of consumption. Gorgeously tangled duets followed, winding across the stage with a catch and release of limbs moving with breath taking velocity. Then there was the dance of the ill-fitting jeans. The jeans didn’t stay unfashionably on their bodies for long; they came off and became part of the dance. I mean really, what is contemporary dance without lots of skin and underwear? Though John and dancers are not so predictable, their underwear is cleverly styled from tee shirts. The choreographed jeans were my favorite part of the work. All the things I love in a dance: riveting and smart, simple yet complicated, plain and simultaneously exotic. Imagine, jeans becoming hats right before your very eyes. You have to see it to believe it. Really, go see this show. Smarty-pants like John are making art that reflects our world and creates a heightened climate of reflection and witnessing. No object in the dance maintained its normal use: hangers became clouds, a bean bag chair became a mask, extension chords wove into a Jacob’s Ladder, tee shirts became underwear, and plastic bottles became beautiful. The dancers caught me off guard with their finesse and attention to detail and left me thinking about that is essential in life. People. Near the end of the dance John’s four dancers became embroiled in what seemed like an inevitable battle. They were shoving and pulling each other into and away from an inflatable mattress. I felt the pull and tug of comfort versus usefulness and it was reflected in the dancers' unpleasant game. The battle resolved in a deflated seated duet with articulate feet and covered eyes. I was left feeling sad about the waste in my life of consumption and simultaneously awed by the beauty of human interaction. If I were to pass John Jasperse a love note this is what it would say:
My friend John,
I think you are great. I hope you will keep bringing your art to Seattle.
- Kara O'Toole