John Jasperse Projects opened the fourth week of the American Dance Festival (ADF) in Durham with three performances (July 7-9) of an ADF-commissioned work, Within between, in the R.J. Reynolds Industries Theater on Duke University’s West Campus. The evening-length piece is one of 12 new works commissioned by the American Dance Festival this season.
The Tuesday, July 8th, performance began before the dancers stepped on the stage. The audience entered to find the stage curtains open and the stage lights on. A white Marley dance floor covered the stage, with grass green tapelines running from upstage to downstage at various intervals. White wall units stood in the wings, both extending and enclosing the stage. A long metal pole lay center stage, parallel to the green tapelines.
A male dancer (Simon Courchel) entered the stage. The house lights remained on as he picked up the pole and walked slowly downstage towards the audience. Even as the pole extended beyond the stage into the audience area, he kept walking. The audience murmured and tittered, unsure; he kept walking. Courchel appeared to make eye contact with a man in the third row, an unspoken assent passing between them; and then he used the tip of the pole to trace the outline of the man’s shoulders and head, starting with his right shoulder, moving over the head, and down to the left shoulder. He repeated the action with a woman in the second row and a woman in the first row. He then retreated.
A second male dancer (Stuart Singer) entered the stage and the two dancers began a sequence in which they supported the pole with various parts of their bodies — shoulders, toes, the tops of their feet — as they sat, rolled on the floor, turned, stood. Two more dancers (Burr Johnson and Maggie Cloud) entered. The first two dancers remained on the floor as they transferred the pole to the two new dancers. Later, all four supported the pole as they danced. The entire section was slow and measured, the dancers obviously focused on balancing the pole, and yet the pole wasn’t the primary focus. It was simply an interesting device, both visually and functionally, that contributed to the creation of the choreography.
Eventually, the pole was discarded, and the dancers continued to move in sync with one another. Standing in ballet fifth position, they began a variation on a combination of movements every ballet dancer learns at some point, in which the dancer transitions through all the various body positions used in center work — croisé, effacé, ecarté, á la seconde, etc., etc. After establishing the sequence, the dancers began distorting the positions — -sickling a foot, swiveling a hip or a knee, sharpening the elbow, breaking the wrist — and even went so far as to distort their faces.
All of this was done in the same slow, measured adagio pace, and yet the movement kept our interest. Eventually, however, the pace of the movement picked up. Partners changed. Rhythmic hand clapping and slapping and foot-stomping were added. Jonathan Bepler’s score moved from the random plucking of a ukelele string and a voice speaking the odd phrase to a more layered jumble of music and sound. Snippets of Debussy’s Clair de Lune rose up occasionally, as did bits of marching band music.
Lenore Doxsee’s lighting changed from full-up, bright white to rectangles of green on the floor to a red wash over half the stage. At one point, the dancers were lit so that their bodies cast tall shadows on the side walls.
The costumes (shorts and shirts for the men and a short dress with a flared skirt for Ms. Cloud) were constructed in assorted black and white striped fabrics. Later in the piece, the costumes (still shorts and shirts and the short dress) changed to brightly colored prints. Both looks were attractive and added to the work’s feeling of playfulness. (Since there was no costume design credit listed, I assume the costume design was part of the visual design credited to Lenore Doxsee and John Jasperse.)
In Within between, Jasperse has created a playful landscape of movement and space. There were a couple of times that I felt the piece dragged, but for the most part it progressed through the sections with a steady momentum. The four dancers were a pleasure to watch, and reminded me a great deal of Merce Cunningham’s dancers — clean lines and solid technique providing the foundation for bodies to move freely, off-center or upright, doing floor work or leaping across the stage.
In fact, Within between has a decidedly Merce Cunningham look, feel, and sound — clean, uncluttered movement performed with little apparent emotion; sections that could be performed in a completely different order and still “make sense”; a feeling of space and simplicity; and the score/sound collage that provides an aural landscape for the choreography. I liked it very much, and I look forward to seeing more of Jasperse’s work.
SECOND OPINION: July 10th Durham, NC Herald-Sun review by Susan Broili: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/entertainment/x143260325/Review-Humor-and-athleticism-in-Jasperse-piece (Note: You must subscribe to read this article); and July 8th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/07/08/3991697/review-john-jasperse-at-american.html and July 5th preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/07/05/3987417/this-week-at-the-american-dance.html.
The American Dance Festival presents JOHN JASPERSE PROJECTS at 8 p.m. July 9 in R.J. Reynolds Industries Theater in the Bryan Center, 125 Science Dr., Durham, North Carolina 27708, on Duke University’s West Campus.
BOX OFFICE: 919-684-4444, firstname.lastname@example.org, or https://tickets.duke.edu/.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: http://vimeo.com/78073267 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdd5jCPvF8U.
DRAMATURGICAL NOTES (by Ariel Osterweis): http://johnjasperse.org/2014/04/within-between-dramaturgical-notes-by-ariel-osterweis/.
PRESENTER: http://www.americandancefestival.org/, https://www.facebook.com/AmerDanceFest, https://twitter.com/AmerDanceFest, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Dance_Festival.
NOTE: This show is recommended for mature audinces, because of its language.
Within between (2014 North Carolina premiere): http://johnjasperse.org/works/within-between/ (official web page).
John Jasperse Projects (New York, NY dance troupe): http://johnjasperse.org/ (official website), http://johnjasperse.org/blog/ (blog), https://www.facebook.com/pages/John-Jasperse-Projects/88754324042 (Facebook page) http://vimeo.com/user2974016 (Vimeo), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Jasperse (Wikipedia).
Viki Atkinson danced professionally in musical theater for a number of years and later shifted her focus to choreographing for theater. Locally, she danced in the North Carolina Theatre productions of Cabaret, My Fair Lady, Man of La Mancha, Oklahoma!, and West Side Story. Additional performance credits include Kathy in Company, Peggy in Godspell, and the title role in Gypsy. Later, Atkinson lent her dance expertise to Spectator Magazine, serving as chief dance critic from 1987 to 1999. She also holds a degree in Dance Education from UNC-Greensboro; and she has taught extensively in a variety of settings, including Meredith College, Virginia Commonwealth University, Appomattox Regional Governor’s School (Petersburg, VA), and the School of Richmond Ballet. She was also on the faculty of the Raleigh School of Ballet for 10 years and directed the dance program at Martin Middle School for four years. Viki Atkinson recently returned to Raleigh after living in Richmond for six years, and is thrilled to be back in North Carolina! To read more of Viki Atkinson’s Triangle Review reviews, click here. To read more of her CVNC reviews, click here.