John Jasperse Company: Live review
“Movement never lies. It is a barometer telling the state of the soul’s weather.”—Martha Graham
“As scarce as truth is, the supply has always been in excess of the demand.”—Josh Billings
Following up on Young Jean Lee’s excellent The Shipment two weeks ago, MCA Stage gave John Jasperse’s latest its North American premiere. Cooperatively commisioned by a number of organizations including The Forsythe Company, Truth, Revised Histories, Wishful Thinking, and Flat Out Lies was born in Dresden last September (and returns to Germany next month). Truth is pregnant with engrossing ideas, its strength its insistence that we in the audience handle their delivery—Jasperse’s stage action only rarely opens its throttle, but the viewing experience races, and is rich.
First we watch some dancing, a quartet along rakish axes with wide fourths and ipsilateral folds, to Rick Ross’s “Where My Money (I Need That).” (This is the Jasperse I knew going in, the man who showed long, dry stretches of unison on demi-pointe to “Fuck the Pain Away” during an in-progress showing of CALIFORNIA in 2003.) Along with the chic costumes and décor (also by Jasperse, with Deanna Berg-MacLean) and a constant belch of fog, it’s a gratifying scene open to interpretation. Many choreographers would finish there and call it a day; here, though, it’s just a frame, a conceit to be dismantled.
Jasperse himself breaks up the party, mocking an overly-analytical ballet student so perfectly it’s painful. With this interruption, we’re dropped into a series of “perceptual invitations,” as he described them after the performance (to which composer Hahn Rowe countered, “They’re traps, basically.”) Many are very funny: When Erin Cornell and Neal Beasley perform their material, they become lost in it, and have to beat clumsily at the curtains to find an exit. Who hasn’t met someone submerged so deeply in their fictional autobiography one enters the blast radius at his or her own risk? This first act pastiche parades around the wondrous variety of ways we delude ourselves like Sporting Group finalists at the Westminster Kennel Club: The dancers convincingly pretend the choreography is beyond their skill level, and lousy magic tricks “distract” us from Jacques Clouseau sneak-arounds. We’re taken to a false beach, are shown an homage to Spy vs. Spy, enjoy gratuitous-but-partial nudity and chuckle at ass cheeks that mumble Prince’s “Kiss.” It all succeeds superbly at reeking of failure.
Truth’s crisp second act, however, transforms it from a funhouse mirror of contemporary culture to a looking glass whose far side holds five characters slipping out of loose moorings. (Also, somewhat incongruously, Cornell and Jasperse execute a fight scene virtually identical to, albeit far more deliciously nuanced than, the one in Didy Veldman’s frame of view.)
Members of ICE play Rowe’s quartet for strings onstage, with the composer seated in-house adding and manipulating electronic elements. It’s gorgeous music that the choreography volleys between honoring and ignoring: Many movement phrases go on as though we’re listening to something else entirely, yet another lie, hot air that inflates the dancers’ stoned wandering and lacquers it, creating a giant husk. The echo inside is life without enough energy budgeted for honesty, the stillness and empty space an open question of how much of that honesty we really need.
Truth, Revised Histories, Wishful Thinking, and Flat Out Lies repeats tonight at 7:30pm and tomorrow afternoon at 3pm at the Museum of Contemporary Art.