The Phenomenological Wow: John Jasperse’s Canyon at BAM Next Wave

11/18/2011 10:43 AM |


Once again a backyard Brooklyn artist goes BAM, as postmodern dance artist John Jasperse premiered his piece Canyon at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theater on Wednesday. Jasperse has been producing work in the New York area for over 25 years, most recently while based out of East Williamsburg’s CPR (Center for Performance Research) at 361 Manhattan Avenue. This new work, at BAM through Saturday, orbits around several movable flag poles, a roll of heavy sheeting and a moving box on wheels, all amidst random streams of electric green tape that start in the lobby.

Extending the landscape of this event, the tape-lines follow and create cracks in the bathroom stalls, up the stairs and through the stage floor and walls. As a result the piece starts to perform for you early, slipping into your consciousness before taking your seat. The tape in the lobby serves to de-glamorize the space, but as the mapping continues to our view of the stage, a glowing intergalactic abstraction comes to life and inspires almost a comforting nostalgia, suggesting a life-sized game board or a child’s room speckled with glow-in-the-dark plastic stars.

As in Jasperse’s other work, the set and props of Canyon help the audience engage with a highly conceptual dance work outside of a highbrow context: Jasperse has a way of approaching intellectualism through a material rootedness, ripe with humor and awe. Seemingly random elements—an unmarked box on the move, flags and tape—cultivate abstraction in order to deliver on some phenomenological WOW. As a cast of six dancers, including Jasperse himself, navigate the space, bodies and flags wave and filter through a series of atmospheric forces. Swells of live music and light allow the tone to range from full-force group sequencing to sparse flickers of gesture within a quiet humming.

At times the movement phrases were strangely generic, most predominately in the opening section, with extended low lines and sweeping pointed toes. However, the piece as a whole builds to a more specifically voiced movement language, eventually bringing us a beautifully crafted female trio and male duet. Air-whipping limbs fit in and out of crevices, caverns, the canyons underneath arms, in the small of the back. The partnering work explores curves, the hooks and nooks of the body, carefully fit together but often punctuated by thudding drops. Bodies are later strewn about the space, slipping away to again signify, perhaps, the passage of time, the erosion by outside forces of bodies and tape.

At some point in the evening there comes a critical moment of stillness and light. In that pause, it is clearer than ever that the positioning of the work’s elements—music, props and light—seem to cohere into a captivating environment even when the actual dancing does not. Thoroughly smart yet light, this piece and Jasperse’s work in general should be a staple on the art calender.