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A scene from the John Jasperse Company's performance at REDCAT

John Jasperse Company
Sunday, April 18, 2010

We all have split personalities sometimes.  In different environments or situations, around different people we all have the tendency to show off opposing sides of ourselves.  Similarly, we all, I’m sure, live a little bit in our heads, visiting a fantasy world when normal life proceeds around us in its relative boredom, but inside spectacular events occur.  Some folks live in this world a bit more than others.  John Jasperse is probably one of those people.

His show at REDCAT, Truth, Revised Histories, Wishful Thinking, and Flat Out Lies, gives that world an engaging physical and visual manifestation.  It’s as sprawling, ambiguous, and rambling as its title, but equally compelling and mysterious.

In movement style, aesthetic theme, and music choice, the first half of the evening is a grab bag of goodies, a collection of mini episodes, a Happy Meal of sorts.  Jasperse narrates his attempt to execute a single pirouette.  Then his quartet of dancers (beautiful, all of them) offer a karaoke version of Prince’s Kiss through their butt cheeks.

One minute the ladies are lounging on a beach of vibrant pink floral print that covers half the stage, the next they’re vamping topless as the guys crawl about in jock straps – a surprising scene of titillating erotica that pops up like an unexpected erection.  As if Jasperse is acknowledging – or suggesting or just desperately wanting to find – that sex is around every corner and hidden under every encounter.

Or maybe he’s just giving the audience what it wants.  Like he knows I think his dancers are beautiful so he says, “Fine, I’ll give them to you.  I’ll show you more than you thought you’d get.”

And then its gone and we move on to some playful warfare between the boys, some quasi-magic from Mr. Jasperse, and a few other unrelated vignettes.  But frequently, behind the antics, a figure covered in black slides along the black curtain, nearly invisible and undetected until the moment when the distractions in the foreground quiet and you can finally see what’s been there all along.

In the second part of the evening, Jasperse’s bi-polar personality is revealed as we re-enter a theater now drenched in blinding white from floor to background to lighting and costumes.  From darkness to light, and all is illuminated.

The silliness is stripped as the quartet of dancers is joined by a string quartet, the live music engulfing the intimate space. Small, quiet gestures evolve into sweeping luscious phrases.  At first it all seems spontaneous, perhaps a bit improvised, each dancer moving to her or his own rhythms and paths.  But patterns emerge and sequences repeat and a logic bubbles to the surface.

So too with the work as a whole.  It runs and jumps and careens all over the place.  It’s all you can do to keep up.  Best not to ask questions, either.  But take it in, enjoy the ride, and eventually, somehow, it starts to make sense.