Sunday, February 7, 2016

Review: John Jasperse's "Fort Blossom Revisited 2000/2012"

Merilyn Jackson finds playfulness, poetry and philosophy in dancer/choreographer John Jasperse's revisiting of his 2000 piece "Fort Blossom" at Bryn Mawr.

Review: John Jasperse's "Fort Blossom Revisited 2000/2012"


By Merilyn Jackson

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “Philosophy ought really to be written only as a form of poetry.” I am never happier than when I can read choreography as poetry, as I — and, I think, the audience — did over the weekend with choreographer John Jasperse’s Fort Blossom Revisited 2000/2012.

This fuller version of the original 2000 work premiered Friday at the Hepburn Teaching Theater, Bryn Mawr College’s black-box theater. The college was the leading funder of the reconstructed and expanded 60-minute work.

On the black side of the divided black and white floor, Ben Asriel and Burr Johnson dance completely nude in subdued lighting (designed by Stan Pressner in its 2000 premiere, now directed by James Clotfelder). On the white side, Lindsay Clark and Erika Hand dance in contrasting brightness, wearing thigh-high dresses the rich red color of cinnabar.

A combination of mercury ore and sulfur, cinnabar is as deliberate and precise a choice as every other element in this revised work. The set’s coloration is minimalistically mid-century moderne, sleek and beautiful. A compilation of Ryoji Ikeda’s eerie recordings made a complementary sound sculpture.

Ever since I saw Xavier Le Roy’s 1998 nude solo, Self-Unfinished, I’ve been thinking about the difference between seeing the naked body and the costumed body dance, and I’ve concluded that the skin is a costume. It hides and holds together everything that is inside, but it also exposes the kinesthetic awareness of the body in a way that even skin-tight fabric cannot. We like to see nude studies in museums and books, so why not live on stage, in three dimensions and in movement?

Jasperse packs Fort Blossom with information of a philosophically poetic and exploratory nature. He creates angular geometrics for the women’s dances and simulated sex between the men, in ways that make us question intimacy and our relationship to our own bodies.

Another startling and playful thing was the repeated zoomorphism of the dancers’ bodies. Asriel lies prone parallel to the audience. On the other side of the divide, Clark and Hand lie on their backs on clear plastic cushions, gyrating on them as if weightless in a gravity-free space. They harness themselves to the cushions, like turtles held upright, with legs dangling from their shells.

Asriel wriggles, wormlike, across the floor, the difficulty of the movement expressed in the tortuous rise and fall of the buttons of his spine. The women bend from the waist, triangulating their legs like flamingoes. The men carry each other at times, looking like camels bearing burdens.

In the upbeat final moments, the women swat the men with the cushions. Near the end, they bend their torsos over one another in a line and walk centipedelike. It seems Jasperse is asking us to see the human body not only as sexual and vulnerable, but also in relation to other species. 

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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