John Jasperse's Remains, presented at BAM is part spectacle, part smorgasbord of movement – but all of it is engrossing. The piece opens with Maggie Cloud (luminous, as always) lying on her side near the middle of the stage, her back to the audience. As the lights grow stronger, we see that she wears an ivory-colored shift dress, resplendent with sequins. As she slowly turns to face downstage and continues adjusting her body in various states of repose – on her elbows, neck arched back, balanced on her pelvis – she glitters endlessly. Here and throughout the rest of the work, Jasperse expertly presents us with unfettered, almost methodical and yet subtly embellished movements; the length of time he gives us to observe them is in constant flux.

Maggie Cloud, Heather Lang, Claire Westby in <i>Remains</i> © Julieta Cervantes
Maggie Cloud, Heather Lang, Claire Westby in Remains
© Julieta Cervantes

In his press materials, Jasperse says that he is interested in both famous iconography and how he recalls past dances of his own. It is easier to see the former in this work: bodies cradled, wrists broken and grisly facial expressions pepper the piece. (Spotting them is like discovering nuts in a fruitcake... A tasty fruitcake, that is.)

But he’s also clearly interested in transferring a phrase – and the art it recalls – from one gender to the next, or at least from one set of bodies to the next. When the male trio of Marc Crousillat, Burr Johnson and Stuart Singer perform a pose-y section, full of moments of luxurious repose, I could think of them only as bathing beauties in my mind. This is due, in part, to Baille Younkman’s brilliant costume designs – in this instance, the men are dressed in short rompers with delicately ruffled hems. There are many costume changes in this piece, so many that I stopped counting. Shifts of red and gray are exchanged for metallic ones; the bathing beauties occasionally wear basic black biketards.

Very particular motifs, like Cloud’s rabbit-like, forced-arch skitters, a winsome strut with floppy wrists and galvanizing strides, are juxtaposed in other sections of intricate and energetic partnering. Though the partnering sections could vary, visually, from Jasperse’s sequence of constantly criss-crossing and braided triplets, the incredible orchestration of the patterns makes for a clear effect. When the partnering is later repeated in the piece, a wild laziness permeates the execution – it’s even more exciting, this second time around.

Stuart Singer, Heather Lang in <i>Remains</i> © Julieta Cervantes
Stuart Singer, Heather Lang in Remains
© Julieta Cervantes

Special praise must be given to the visual design, by Jasperse himself and Lenore Doxsee. A glowing, asymmetric cross lines the walls, and even the marley seems reflective. Sometimes a single hanging lightbulb is all that lights the stage, which makes the moments where we feel as if we’re watching a group of mannequins moving around after the store is closed (dancers are picked up in their frozen poses and moved elsewhere) feel all the more utilitarian.

The piece lost steam for me in its final section, as an unseen voice commands the dancers to move forward or back, ad infinitum. But I suppose this chess-like ending is a natural winding down,. It’s as if we’re suddenly aware that these dancers are, like those before them and  even those before them, merely pawns – the instruments the artist in charge uses to convey a shape or tableau that’s pleasing to the eye.