In the lead-up to the 2010 Time-Based Art Festival, Artistic Director Cathy Edwards will be posting about some of the artists, projects, and ideas that inspire her in this year’s program. Week three focuses on the clever and captivating dances of John Jasperse, who will perform Truth, Revised Histories, Wishful Thinking, and Flat Out Lies at TBA:10.

Photo: Sylvio Dittrich

To a curator, there are invariably a small group of artists whom one might name as an inspiration for entering the field of promoting art. For me, John Jasperse is one of those artists. When I first came to New York and was introduced to the downtown dance world in the late 1980s, I was fortunate enough to encounter John immediately. He was just back from Europe (working with Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker) and, at that time, was performing with Jennifer Monson and creating his own dances. When I saw his work, I felt as if I was in an art gallery, and the dancers, their actions, and the physical environment of his mysterious objects and people profoundly affected me. If I had been asked to talk about the impact or the importance of John’s work, at that point I might not have had the language to do so. But I certainly was moved, even thrilled, by the unfolding situation that was at once inscrutable, so odd as to be almost funny, and formally very compelling.

Jasperse’s choreography is indeed formal, anatomically specific, and task-oriented, often bringing bodies in contact with interesting material objects or specific environments. His performers never “pretend,” and, as a choreographer, he has no obvious interest in drama. And yet, the unusual scenarios he matter-of-factly makes room for in his dances lead to interesting theatrical and emotional impact. In his work, he has revealed acute loneliness, been shockingly risqué, invoked quotidian routines that suddenly become Kafkaesque, luxuriated in altered perspectives, made room for confessional moments, and contemplated the nature of human connection.
Jasperse might be called a minimalist, in that there is a simplicity and austerity to his choreography and design, and yet when I consider the often-bizarre situations he constructs in his dances, by virtue of costume, movement language, object or spatial design, it is clear that he is fundamentally creating theatrical scenarios. His materiality is balanced with the deliciousness of unexpected juxtapositions and cultural commentary. It is the task of the viewer to make some sense of these scenarios, or perhaps simply to experience them in all of their fundamental absurdity and their glorious physical beauty.
It is precisely the tension between the realness of the human body, the tangible nature of objects, and the simulation and theatricality of the stage that is the subject matter of Truth, Revised Histories, Wishful Thinking, and Flat Out Lies. Truth almost defies description and I hope it will suffice to say that it is beautifully performed, smart and funny, interesting to watch, and captivating to experience. PICA is very proud to be part of the commissioning team behind the piece, and it will be an absolute highlight of this September’s TBA Festival.
For more information, and tickets to Truth, visit PICA.ORG.