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      John Jasperse in John Jasperse: Canyon
      Photo by Julieta Cervantes
      John Jasperse
    Exploring a Sleepy Planet

    John Jasperse puts a Canyon in BAM Harvey Theater


    Canyon is a sleepy space of magic and wonder. John Jasperse samples '60s sci-fi TV and '80s space-alien movies and adds beautifully soft, spiralling movement that gives the impression of shifting gravity, like '50s Fred Astaire dancing on the walls and ceiling.

    Space explorer Burr Johnson enters this canyon like a superhuman, bounding huge and soft as if on the moon. Others enter singly or in pairs with the same bright, clean movement phrases, in bright, clean light. Everything is fresh and new, and the energy comes in one continuous flow, building to a group of six in unison and splitting back into pairs and singles, with subtle and seamless entries and exits. Only when all six end up standing in a diagonal line, breathing heavily, does the rest of the space come into focus, seemingly for both the audience and the dancers, who begin testing the space immediately around themselves as if in the dark, with slow caution.

    Choreography by: John Jasperse.
    Dancers: Lindsay Clark, Erin Cornell, Kennis Hawkins, John Jasperse, Burr Johnson, James McGinn.
    Music by: Hahn Rowe.
    Sound design by: Hahn Rowe, Dave Cook.
    Lighting design by: James Clotfelter.
    Visual design: Tony Orrico.
    Musicians: Olivia De Prato, Ha-Yang Kim, Doug Wieselman, Hahn Rowe.
    BAM Harvey Theater
    November 16-19, 2011

    With such a visually simple stage — white marley in a wide diagonal swath, orange flags on stands, four seated musicians, and neon tape in haphazard lines that extend forty feet up the back wall and throughout the walkways of the theater — it seems odd to say that this is a visually fascinating piece. Like the music, though, in which rarely if ever does what the musicians play come directly through the speakers (credit onstage composer Hahn Rowe and live sound mixer Dave Cook), layers and echoes of association accompany every sound and sight. And, like the large box that rolls around the stage (part of the visual design of Tony Orrico), things seep into our awareness slowly, only enhancing this sense of deja-vu or vague familiarity.

    the Canyon in John Jasperse: Canyon
    Photo by Juieta Cervantes
    the Canyon

    Nothing is ever as clear and bright as it is in the beginning, like many ventures in life; a pervasive sleepiness and stillness starts to take over after the dancers stand still in their line. The three women move in and out of soft unison with an energy similar to the opening, but eventually stellar Kennis Hawkins and Lyndsay Clark begin to flop and fold in a beautiful, endlessly looping duet in which they rarely make it to their feet, as if they flop in their sleep, finally lying on the large rolls the marley wraps around at the back of the stage — and then slipping off, out of sight. The sole jittery moment comes as Jasperse and James McGinn come in goofy and quick, as if they are searching for the missing women. Eventually, all are back onstage, lying on their backs.

    Slumpy sleepiness is only the biggest mystery here, among many. Why do people emerge solo, looking lost or just looking, like Clark does in a forest of flags? Is there little to do but loll here, as if this is an uncharted Star Trek planet where the insidious danger is sleepiness? What does it mean when, in an episode of building tension and stunning beauty, all onstage stop and look up and to us as a large bank of lights descends slowly to brighten the stage and then the audience? Physically, all is still, but spaceships and close encounters race through audience minds.

    (L-R)Kennis Hawkins, James McGinn, Lyndsay Clark in John Jasperse: Canyon
    Photo by julieta Cervantes
    (L-R)Kennis Hawkins, James McGinn, Lyndsay Clark

    One mystery that takes its time is the large white box. All ignore this sporadically creeping, meandering presence until far into the piece, when moments of silence reveal the sound of tape ripping off a reel and we finally realize that this "robot" has been laying red neon tape all over the stage as it goes. Red tape becomes a metaphor for the slow creep of inertia and decay, as two sleeping people are eventually covered by robotape. Only when Jasperse lifts a flagstand and breaks a line of red tape is the sleepy spell broken; all begin to work together to clear the red tape away, leaving it in large balls and leaving one more mystery — the yellow neon tape — intact.

    In the end, all lie down and the stage darkens, and Jasperse lets us decide what to make of things, images lingering in our heads.

    NOVEMBER 21, 2011

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