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Jack Anderson

John Jasperse Telling True Lies

John Jasperse Company
Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue at 19th Street, Chelsea
June 16-19, 2010, Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., $10-$39
Tickets: (212) 242-0800 or www.joyce.org
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, June 19, 2010

From L to R: Kayvon Pourazar, Erin Cornell, Neal Beasley and Eleanor Hullihan. Photo by Sylvio Dittrich.

Certain dances can be more interesting to talk about than to watch. John Jasperse's "Truth, Revised Histories, Wishful Thinking, and Flat Out Lies" is such a piece. It came to the stage preceded by advance statements from the John Jasperse Company raising serious questions about distinguishing between theatrical reality and illusion and informing us that it was Jasperse's intention to let audiences decide "what is real and what is a ruse, what is solid and what is full of hot air."

But why should we fret over this? Martha Graham did say, "Movement never lies," which may well be true in situations in which speech and body language are at variance. Yet everything that happens on stage is fictive. And dance is an artifice by its very nature. Even dances supposedly based on real-life movements remove those movements from their source in the street, home, or workplace and arrange them in a special order for the sake of artistic effectiveness. All dances are lies of a sort. But those lies also tell truths of a sort: they are undeniable physical facts; what we see is what there is, not necessarily all that there is, yet their corporeal reality cannot be denied. Sometimes, in narrative works, seemingly believable physical facts may be contradicted by new ones, as when in a fairytale ballet what appears to be a benevolent old woman turns out to be the wicked witch in disguise. But until we are provided with fresh theatrical information, we must accept the fictions we are given as true.

From L to R: Eleanor Hullihan, Erin Cornell, Kayvon Pourazar and Neal Beasley. Photo by Sylvio Dittrich.

And now I notice I've been nattering on without saying anything specific about Jasperse's "Truth." See what I mean about some dances being more interesting to talk about than to watch? But let's talk a bit about "Truth," a two-act production choreographed by Jasperse in collaboration with his dancers (Neal Beasley, Erin Cornell, Eleanor Hullihan, and Kayvon Pourazar) and designed by him in collaboration with Joe Levasseur (lighting) and Deanna Berg MacLean (costumes.) Hahn Rowe composed an original score for string quartet played by members of the International Contemporary Ensemble; additional music came from Ginuwine, Rick Ross, and Barry White, and Dave Cook provided the sound mix.

From L to R: Kayvon Pourazar, Neal Beasley, Erin Cornell, Eleanor Hullihan. Photo by Sylvio Dittrich.

Part of the stage in the first act was a pink space adorned with floral patterns. Jasperse's choreography for his four dancers featured slinky and twisty steps, with passages of buttocks twitching. Jasperse entered to do some basic ballet pirouettes; relentlessly self-critical, he commented sadly on his technical limitations. The other dancers attempted to hold balances, usually failing to do so. In these sequences, Jasperse may have wanted his audience to wonder if his dancers were really as klutzy as they seemed. But who cares? They did what Jasperse presumably asked them to do which, in this case, was to look klutzy.

Events proceeded as an assemblage of little scenes, most of them odd, but few so odd that they made one gape with wonder. Tangos were juxtaposed with bumbling magic tricks. The dancers stripped to near-nudity. Furtive people in black had a mimetic gunfight, which made the incident a dance "noir" in more than one sense of that word.

In the second act, everything turned white: white wall, white floor, white costumes for the dancers and the string quartet, which was now on stage. Sometimes the dancers stepped carefully, sometimes they tottered as if queasy or drunk. In truth, however, they surely were "really" in neither of those conditions. Jasperse pointed a large white arrow at a woman, and she struggled with him for possession of it. Yet why the arrow was being pointed remained obscure.

Erin Cornell and John Jasperse. Photo by Sylvio Dittrich.

Everyone, dancers and musicians alike, draped white doilies over their heads and one dancer flopped over the edge of the side balcony like the protagonist's ghost at the end of "Petrouchka." At last, after a motionless pause, everyone wandered off in a droopy manner.

By this time, I had stopped trying, or caring, to determine if what I was watching represented, to use Jasperse's terminology, truth. revised history (but history of what? ), wishful thinking, or a flat out lie. Instead of placing his cast in a realm crackling with theatrical paradox, Jasperse led us all deeper and deeper into inconsequentiality.

Yet the way I interpreted "Truth" suggests there may be a moral here. Although information about new works is always welcome, dance companies should perhaps avoid sending out unusually detailed philosophical statements in advance of such works, and reviewers should perhaps avoid taking those statements too seriously.

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