Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Ride It. My Pony.

April 18, 2010

from Truth, Revised Histories, Wishful Thinking, and Flat Out Lies
Photo: Steven Gunther/John Jasperse Company 2010

Squeezed between a number of other events this weekend was an appearance by the John Jasperse Company this weekend at REDCAT with a new dance work called Truth, Revised Histories, Wishful Thinking, and Flat Out Lies. It’s a piece commissioned by a consortium of groups and it’s receiving a premiere in locales around the country including Minneapolis and New York later this year. According to Jasperse, the two-hour long work examines “what we believe, what we don’t, and why.” Fair enough. Though I’m not sure I quite got all of this out of Truth, I will say that it was an evening of extremely engaging movement and theater.

Truth features five dancers; two men, two women, and Jasperse himself in two segments separated by an intermission. The men and women often operate in same sex pairs contrasting to the other group. In the first half, a dark stage is bordered on the left by a floral patterned L-shaped space. Women in black-sequined mini dresses and men in see-through tanks and go-go shorts appear and soon launch into Jasperes’ unique movement vocabulary. The sequences can look unstable and off the cuff in a way that is at times reminiscent of teens dancing to their stereos alone in their bedrooms. The tone varies from serious to broadly comic, often changing on a dime. In one unexpectedly funny highlight, the dancers disrobe to a blaring recording of Ginuwine’s 1996 hit Pony leaving the bare-breasted women to gyrate as if in a sex club as the two men now clad only in jock straps writhe on the floor, their rear ends completely exposed to the audience. Jasperse often acts as a court jester in the proceedings inserting copious amounts of comic irony. He appears later covered head to toe in a black body suit slinking almost imperceptibly along the back until reaching the floral patterned wall where he makes a sudden run for the other side in a comical failed attempt to maintain a certain mystery. Serious moments have a way of being instantly deflated here with lighter-toned interludes.

The second half flips from a black room, to a totally white one. In this instance four members of the International Contemporary Ensemble appear at the rear of the stage to provide live musical accompaniment to the performance. The dancers appear all in white like some summertime Banana Republic ad and fall to the floor in positions as if they were currently falling from the sky. Later Jasperse appears with a cut out arrow pointer in his hand and engages in a wordless argument with one of the dancers, the arrow serving to identify the flow of the conversation. This later devolves into a slow-mo cat fight. Things become more structured again later on as events move to their final conclusion. What works so well about Truth isn’t just the comedy. Jasperse often seems to intentionally avoid both lyrical fluid movement and bursts of athleticism. Yet, he still manages to extract grace and beauty from something that is still about something more than the small gesture. In my book, funny and beautiful aren't easy things to do at the same time. Even if it doesn't get you any closer to the truth - whatever that is.


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