writers on dancing


Slouching Towards California

choreographed by John Jasperse
BAM Harvey Theater
Brooklyn, New York
December 7-11, 2004

by Nancy Dalva
copyright © 2004 by Nancy Dalva

“Yes, Virginia,” Francis P. Church told a young reader on the editorial page of The New York Sun at the end of 1897, “There is a Santa Claus.” I write to offer a corresponding assurance for the end of 2004. Yes, reader, there is a zeitgeist.

How else to account for the weird samenesses among diverse works presented in seasons, in festivals, on mixed bills? No where more so than at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival, where two choreographers—otherwise unrelated—recently crossed their stages with red rope. With Angelin Preljocaj and his ballet company, it was yarn, serving as some sort of symbolic connective device, with reference to viscera. With John Jasperse, it was heavy duty appliance cords, drawn slowly onto the stage by a kneeling dancer, signifying who knows what?

It’s as if someone sprinkled Butoh dust over all the choreographers in the West, infecting them with an urge towards fetal imagery, disrobing, slow motion, and devices suitable for bondage, which can combine to induce nausea in the susceptible, and to make one think “Oh, this again,” at the most unlikely sights. Some years, it’s fruit. Some years, it’s tanks of water. One really bad year, it was live birds. ( At least I think the chicken and the peacocks were the same year. The birds blur.)

But about the extension cords. The choreographer needed them to power up the leaf blowers, which he needed to move around the serenely crumpled, origami- like, mutable sculpture by Ammar Eloueini that is the decor for“California,” a work for five dancers, including the choreographer. There are also four pianists on stage, and four “foley artists ” (who employ various devices that produce sound but are not conventional instruments), playing original music by Jonathan Bepler. (You only have to hear what sound like seed pods rattling to think of John Cage, but this composer, unlike Cage, seems to be drawn to a certain conventional pleasingness to the ear, and to a certain cuteness, as when, at the end, the musicians let some balls they have been employing roll into the middle of the dance.) The dancers and musicians are united in their apparel, namely blue jumpsuits, until such time as the dancers (this was entirely predictable) molt, revealing mottled undergarments. Moths in lamplight, the lighting designed by the choreographer and Joe Levasseur.

John Jasperse himself looks particularly larval and pallid, which is nothing new with him, nor is his way with intense duets where the interpenetration of limbs and entangling of torsos delineate a desire to merge not merely corporal, but spiritual. He’s an oddball with a knack for oneness.

Less so for five-ness. This choreographer has shown himself time and again to be uninterested in rhythm or structure, for which he substitutes slow motion, high concepts, and a knack for postures that suggest a readiness for medical intervention. Forget the arabesque, and assume the position. An occasional duet played against a trio; the incorporation of contact improvisation into theatrical dance. These are devices, not elements of a larger, over-arching movement picture. Yet the dramatically lit stage,the dramatic set, the music full of stillness, and the dancers fully focused as they assume their ungainly postures, all these make this work transcendent, to some.

Pale flesh, pale light, eerie noises, a ghostly set like a deconstructed moon. Dancers tip-tip-tiptoeing about in cobalt overalls, rolling on the floor, prone on their stomachs, slowly, slowly, slowly raising their behinds into the air, like hypnotized mechanics. What’s one man’s trance is another man’s torpor. You either fall in love in “California,” or you fall asleep.

Volume 2, No. 46
December 6, 2004
Copyright ©2004 by Nancy Dalva


DanceView Times

What's On This Week
Index of Reviews
Index of Writers

Back Issues
About Us

Sister Sites:
Ballet Alert! Online
Ballet Talk
Ballet Blogs


Mindy Aloff
Dale Brauner
Mary Cargill
Christopher Correa
Clare Croft
Nancy Dalva
Rita Felciano
Marc Haegeman
George Jackson
Gia Kourlas
Sali Ann Kriegsman
Alexander Meinertz
Tehreema Mitha
Gay Morris
Ann Murphy
Paul Parish
John Percival
Susan Reiter
Jane Simpson
Alexandra Tomalonis (Editor)
Lisa Traiger
Meital Waibsnaider

Kathrine Sorley Walker
Leigh Witchel



DanceView is available by subscription ONLY. Don't miss it. It's a good read.  Black and white, 48 pages, no ads. Subscribe today!

DanceView is published quarterly (January, April, July and October) in Washington, D.C. Address all correspondence to:

P.O. Box 34435
Washington, D.C. 20043
last updated on December 13. 2004