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Helene

John Jasperse at On The Boards

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According to an interview with On The Boards Artistic Director Lane Czaplinski, choreographer John Jasperse noted the single constraint of his new work, Misuse liable to prosecution: nothing used in the sets, props, and costumes could be bought; all must be found, borrowed or stolen. As a result, Jasperse has created a set of striking and quirky beauty: giant mobiles of used hangers, on which an occasional janitor's dust mop is hung, and threw which overhead lights were strewn. Deeper into the interview, he said that he wanted to use a different vocabulary than he had in the past, changing the aesthetic, especially his own.

For at least one half hour before the start time, Jasperse lay upstage right on a huge orange rope net that hung from the ceiling, with his legs in the air continuously weaving and unweaving, tying and untying his legs and feet with the mesh. (I can't imagine the physical strength it took to keep his legs up and active for so long, before he then performed in an hour+ show.) In the next phase, he balanced an orange traffic cone on a broom, and proceeded to read a set of financial statistics among them about himself, his company, his dancers, Judge Judy's salary compared to the Supreme Court justices. He followed with an exhibit of gelaimter-ness I found thrilling: he gathered the cone, a plastic crate, and feather duster, and an assortment of mops and brooms and heading upstage, dropping them and rearranging them and losing a piece and dropping another trying to pick up one from the floor, trying over and over until he arrived, where he arranged the pieces in plastic crates as carefully as one would flowers.

Four dancers, two men and two women then took the stage. One man and woman moved in parallel, while the other set proceeded to weave themselves in and out and around each other. Later they lay on their backs and proceeded to loop and weave a long rope of tied fabric pieces with their legs and feet, until the entire mass was under the woman's shirt, after which the man rolled it up and over her head in a nifty bundle. In another part, the dancers struggled and tossed each other against an air mattress, in yet another, the three men interacted with each other and what looked at first like a sleeping bag, but later seemed too heavy. (I'm not sure what it was.) There was also an extended section where in unison, each dancer folded, unfolded, threw, whipped, and tossed a pair of jeans, until three made origami hats out of them.

There were times when I was distracted away from the dancers, mostly to watch composer and musician Zeena Parkins -- who moved so calmly that there was no reason for her physical presence to be distracting -- but I was so fascinated by the score, that I wanted to see how it was being made. Another time, Jasperse arranged plastic bottles on a piece of fabric that took up a good chunk of stage right. I knew there was dancing going on, but I was focused on his calm and deliberate actions. (That was followed by a wonderful sequence in which the two women used their legs and feet to gather this giant sheet and the plastic bottles until it was like a blanket.) The times I tuned out were when the music became too loud or the dance sustained an aggressiveness. I didn't feel actively uncomfortable, but my reaction in distancing was pretty clear. However, this was not a piece whose purpose was to show the disintegration of human interaction, and each of these situations played out and switched in a different direction.

I loved, loved the score, the scenic design, and the lighting, making it a complete work of art. All in all, it was a delight.

Misuse liable to prosecution travels to BAM, which commissioned it, from 31 October-3 November at the Harvey Theater.

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Thanks, Helene, for making me (us) aware of this artist and this performance. I read your post several times before it hit me just how important stories like this are.

I'm someone who was influenced by my parents' generation's experience of 30s political theater and my own youthful experiences in the 60s. It's good to know that political dance theater is alive and well -- integrating a world view that has virtually disappeared in contemporary consumer-driven American culture, where we are usually discouraged from thinking about the causes that brought us to where we are.

We need voices and reminders like this. I'm glad Jasperse does it so well. It's nice to know that there are oganizations willing to present such work, and audiences willing to watch, listen, and think.

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On the other hand, Jennifer Dunning hated it:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/02/arts/mus....html?ref=dance

Part of the problem was that Mr. Jasperse’s subject — living and making art in a capitalist society with almost no capital — is a familiar one to which he brought no new insight. The set, which he designed, makes mostly inspired use of junk like plastic clothes hangers. But about a decade ago Paul Taylor claimed to have found a score when he fished a record out of garbage, which takes the equally familiar notion of found art even further. And the tone of Mr. Jasperse’s piece ranged from folksy to cute.

Mr. Jasperse can be fascinating. But “Misuse liable to prosecution,” whose title was taken from a warning on plastic milk crates, has the skimpy, unrealized feel of a piece put together to fulfill a gig or the terms of a grant for new work.

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On the other hand, Jennifer Dunning hated it:
I suppose the gap between intentions and execution can turn out to be bigger than some artists imagine. :huh:

I confess to having some sympathy with the following comment of Dunning's:

Here’s an idea: How about making a dance with no sets and putting those thousands into dancers’ salaries?

On the other hand, the NY Times -- whose income depends so much on celebrating luxury brands and consumer excess -- may not be the media outlet most open to the message Mr. Jasperse is trying to get across. :)

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On the other hand, Jennifer Dunning hated it:
I suppose the gap between intentions and execution can turn out to be bigger than some artists imagine. :huh:

I confess to having some sympathy with the following comment of Dunning's:

Here’s an idea: How about making a dance with no sets and putting those thousands into dancers’ salaries?

On the other hand, the NY Times -- whose income depends so much on celebrating luxury brands and consumer excess -- may not be the media outlet most open to the message Mr. Jasperse is trying to get across. :)

While I don't disagree with the thrust of Dunning's review (I didn't see Jasperse's dance), she made a big boo-boo: she wrote, "Mr. Jasperse talks of paying his dancers $15 a rehearsal," when in reality, in the interview she's referring to he says he pays them $15 an hour. Still not a lot of money, but I fear the error is what Jasperse and fans will latch onto and miss hearing the bigger point. And she should've gotten it right--the interview was in her paper!

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