This sentiment about the accidental nature of living—and the splendor to be found therein—plays an important role in the inspiration for New York City-based choreographer John Jasperse’s new work, premiering as part of Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company’s spring performance Propel. In fact, the title of the commissioned piece “Spurts of Activity Before the Emptiness of Late Afternoon” comes directly from a poem of another New Yorker, John Ashbery. Embedded in the aesthetic of Ashbery’s poetry is that idea of embracing the slapdash way life comes at us, sculpting those meanderings into meaningful structures and artistic explorations.
“Our lives are very full,” Jasperse says. “We spend a lot of time doing, trying to shape our experiences and our world. What time is left is often filled with planning other things to do. Accidents, where experience diverges from our plan, are mostly considered something to avoid.
“Nonetheless, the accidental is constantly interrupting this flow, ‘messing up’ our plans. Sometimes our plans are so willed that we don’t even notice these accidents in our experience. Virtuosity and the display of difficult actions, where the accidental has been conquered, is a key feature of dance’s history.”
As a creative jumping-off point, Jasperse began with an improvisational score and movement sourced in ideas of confusion and disorientation. He laid out a few basic rules for the dancers and then let them loose. After taping the sessions, he returned to the dancers and extracted specific cells of movement, pulling phrases out of one context and plying them into another, or removing them altogether into a solo space all of their own. By fashioning various pieces in this manner—ultimately creating a collage interspersed with space and experienced over time—Jasperse’s choreography engages the audience in a unique way that will have them questioning the accidental or intuitive nature of both everyday movement and the artistic development of dance.
|Lost by Charlotte Boye-Christensen.
| If My Right Hand Would Say What My
Left Hand Thought by Alicia Sanchez
“The way we developed this movement became about material that was generated not because we thought something looked cool, or we wanted to make a cool-looking move,” says Jasperse. “We wanted to try and embody a certain experiential state, extract that pedestrian aesthetic of the movement and use that as building blocks.
“The thing is, even with the most excellently trained dancers, the scope of dance is relatively restrained. This way, rather than look at that as some sort of disability or something that dance lacks, I could focus on the way in which it brings you into a new kind of experience of corporal reality.”
Another aspect of doing so is by incorporating heavily designed sets and props, an aspect that Jasperse’s work is also well-known for. With “Spurts …” he clearly departs from this well-worn path; the lack of a set becomes the design. The wings are left open, the stage lights hang bare and the audience can see all the scaffolding that normally sits well-hidden behind the scenes. In fact, the rear wall of the stage—a wall that hardly ever sees the light of day—remains bare, becoming the backside of a proscenium box that almost feels as if it has no boundaries.
Because dance is inherently a visual form, that bare stage and the sheer distance between the dancers and the audience imbues the piece with the important nature of silence and empty space—more specifically, how action and movement openly defies and shapes that emptiness and silence. Further, the seemingly pedestrian movements and lack of set contribute to an overall sense of familiarity, like you are watching someone you think you know moving about a space you almost feel a part of. While sitting in a theater watching a choreographed dance, nothing feels more accidentally natural.