March 11, 2004

California Dreamin'

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It is too easy to become bogged down in the dull consistency of Cornell life, to grow tired of seeing the same bodies moving in the same manners every day. So when the John Jasperse Company comes knocking at the Schwartz Center door on March 16 and 17, we should be more than ready for the wildest party to hit campus since plural nouns. Armed with moving scenery, swinging props and a sea of pliant arms, legs, and bodies, the company will bend more than just matter. According to Dance Professor Byron Suder, they will twist and transform all assumptions about the human body and the potential for movement. After winning more awards then my word limit will permit and touring Europe and North and South America, the John Jasperse Company will bring its avant-garde modern dance to Cornell next week with its performance of California. Jasperse brings a revolutionary set, music by Jonathan Bepler (of Cremaster fame), and concept-oriented dance choreographies.

On March 16 and 17, the Schwartz Center will be holding approximately 950 performances over a span of just about 3 hours. That is, the whole audience will be able to construct their own story from what they see: a veritable Rorschach test. Perhaps that is the beauty of it. It isn’t an occasion to simply shower John Jasperse with praise for his genius like one would for Tennessee Williams, Oscar Wilde, or Barry Tomlinson. Jasperse doesn’t pull us along a planned route like a playwright; he simply supplies the tools (enigmatic dances and awe-inspiring sets) for us to make our own show. A Jasperse audience member isn’t a passive log floating down Abstract River; rather he or she must have fiery eyes, constantly exploring and probing the performance. Here are a few words that I had with Byron Suber, Senior Lecturer of Dance, and former neighbor/associate of Mr. Jasperse himself:

DAZE: What is your history with John Jasperse? Have you seen him perform?

Byron Suber: Yeah I’ve known him for about 20 years. We lived in the same neighborhood in New York City, but I didn’t know him as a choreographer until a number of years later. There are certain people who become the hot topic in the art world, so his name was mentioned a lot and I finally saw him at the American Dance Festival and then later at BAM [Brooklyn Academy of Music]. It’s difficult to get a handle on it because normally you have to travel relatively far, so it’s really great that he’s coming here.

DAZE: What was Jasperse’s set like when you saw his work? What stood out?

Suber: Well the set is certainly nothing recognizable. Not like a room or anything. He had defined the space with giant strings hanging down, and they were connected to a little fan, and they would spin and make spirals, and the spirals would get bigger and smaller with the fan’s movement

DAZE: For people not very familiar with modern dance, is the dance more of a pantomime acting? Are there sequential events, or just well … (trails off).

Suber: There is certainly meaning that can be attached. For people who are looking for a linear sort of narrative, they won’t find that. It’s more figurative. The images might suggest things. It might be something as complex as a metaphysical structure or might be something as simple as “I think that guy likes that girl.” It’s not pre-verbal but it’s non-verbal.

DAZE: Does that make for a more individualized experience as compared to a more linear form?

Suber: Yeah, well, the way you put images together to construct some kind of meaning can be individual to the person. You aren’t locked in. Think of your favorite sport. What you like about watching it: it’s more than “I like to see them score.” You can see there is a specific movement to it. When somebody shoots, there’s an incredible action going on. Seeing a body move in a way that you aren’t used to. In some ways that is what’s beautiful about sports. It’s more enjoyable if you look at it that way then trying to understand the intent or overall meaning.

DAZE: Did you find that the audience ever felt uncomfortable or amused with the line between artistic dance and overt sexuality?

Suber: In “Giant Empty,” there is a male duet that is pretty provocative, really graphic and really intimate. I think that the shock about it and the humor about it are fine. I don’t think Jasperse would have any problem with it. There’s a point where you start to see the beauty. He is really gifted at formalizing it in a way so that by the end you see it as incredibly powerful and beautiful.

DAZE: Could you describe a certain scene or memory from the show?

Suber: Well there were a couple things. He used these windmilling arms. The arms were straight, and they seemed to windmill in all different kinds of angles, and all four dancers doing it at the same time at different tempos and different angles. It was incredibly pleasant to watch: something so simple and beautiful. At the end there was this thing with a linoleum dance floor and they blew air underneath the floor, and the dancers were on it, and the floor would oscillate and it was astounding. In California, with the pictures that I’ve seen of this giant fabric thing, it seems like it will be pretty astounding in the way that the set will move.

For tickets, call 254-ARTS Monday through Friday, 12:30-5:30.

Archived article by Brian London