Even the most chameleon-like choreographers must struggle to produce works that don’t seem like rehashes, or even just reminiscent of past pieces. After all, part of the choreographic struggle is figuring our what makes your movement yours – creating your own movement vocabulary. In his Within between at New York Live Arts, John Jasperse seeks to acknowledge his movement as his own even as he turns it on its head. What results is a thumping, exciting, exacting and boundless piece of dance. One that continually surprises.
His quartet for Maggie Cloud, Simon Courchel, Burr Johnson and Stuart Singer is certainly one of the most original things I’ve seen in a very long time. The piece begins with an actual poke: Mr Couchel picks up a sizeable metal pole and extends it into the audience, tracing body outlines and passing over coiffures. The house lights are up; the marley is white; neon green tape delineates rectangles of various sizes. Everything is stark, and the audience crackles with attention. Mr Couchel is soon joined by Mr Singer (and, eventually, Mr Johnson and Ms Cloud) in his manipulation of the pole, held by fingers and feet. The atmosphere is formal, bordering on lethargic – standard post-modern fare, I began to think.
Composer Jonathan Bepler and his three fellow musicians perform the piece’s score live, sitting downstage left. Whispered bits – “I’m sorry” – and smacked lips are repeated and looped. Its oddity feels welcomingly Jaspersian. The piece quickly picks up speed, immediately changing any preconceived notions of what it is about: As the dancers go through balletic poses in unison, in an exercise that would not feel out of place in a ballet class’ tendu centerwork, blips of Debussy’s Clair de Lune can be heard. The dancers’ mouths, eyes and feet slowly pervert themselves and then quickly self-correct. It’s all delightfully arch.
The meat of the piece happens later, over the course of several sections. In one, the dancers throw themselves into leaps and arabesques with one half of their bodies leading and the other half following a moment later. They look like a beautifully demented drill team, bent on covering vast distances of space, even at the sacrifice of beauty or conventional technique. Later, they morph into a step team of sorts, with frog legs and complicated, often syncopated dual rhythms, clapped and slapped out. Toward the end of the piece – after the dancers have changed from striped summery outfits to psychedelic versions of the same – they throw themselves at each other, over heads and under backbends. There is no timidity or hesitation, no safety net; only exhilaration. Mr Singer, ever-fresh and tireless, is a wonder.
Whether or not Mr Jasperse has succeeded in creating a work “both mine and not mine,” as his press release says, seems irrelevant. That sounds more like a personal quest, anyway. His press materials can be dense, but unlike many other choreographers who can talk their pieces to death, he has delivered an exhilarating, surprising, well-constructed and incredibly well-danced piece.
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