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Intimacy’s Many Facets: NY Times review of John Jaspere’s “Fort Blossom revisited (2000/12)”

This article appeared in yesterday’s New York Times.

John Jasperse Company performs in FlynnSpace, Thursday & Friday, June 14 & 15 at 7:30 pm.

The form of dance theater that the choreographer John Jasperse develops in “Fort Blossom revisited (2000/12)” is often astonishing. Watching Wednesday’s premiere, I was several times left with the sensation of having traveled to unknown terrain. The piece is an expanded 70-minute reworking of his “Fort Blossom” (2000). (We should not spend time figuring out what the title might mean.)

“Fort Blossom revisited” features four performers who remain onstage more or less throughout, and it’s constructed according to binary principles. The two women (Lindsay Clark and Erika Hand) are elegantly dressed in long-sleeved short red dresses, with subtly matching lipstick. The two men (Ben Asriel and Burr Johnson) are, however, naked. For a long period the women are together on the left, the men on the right. The dualism that develops between their two different worlds is extraordinary.

Something they do have in common is transparent vinyl inflatables. The two women have matching amber boxlike ones on which they sit and which they later wear on their backs like wings. Initially on the right there is a single large inflatable, like a small see-through Li-Lo: which, several inches thick, is for a long while all that separates the two men, as one lies horizontally on top of the other. The two men, in profile to us, move their pelvises in rhythm. We’re watching a deconstruction of anal sex. The balloon, by separating their two bodies, has the effect of objectifying the movement. Then, after they have lain in stillness for a long, long while (itself an amazing spectacle), they deflate it until it is just the sheath between them. By the time they finally separate and peel it away, it’s become a metaphor for a condom.

It’s conventional — and often true — to say that the effect of presenting a performer naked onstage is to de-eroticize the body. But the erotic suggestiveness of Mr. Jasperse’s movement makes this scene far more complex; I imagine most viewers find, as I did, that the erotic and nonerotic aspects of the scene keep changing.

There follows a slow male duet that is often even more mesmerizing — and yet more astounding. Only once do the two men hold each other’s eyes; only once, I think, do their naked groins meet. But their intimacy of contact is amazing. The cheek of one man’s face is pressed tenderly to the cheek of the other’s buttock. One man crouches on all fours while the other arches right back on top, lying on him back to back. Most of these positions and movements would count for little if they were danced with clothes on, and for less if performed by man and woman. Here, and especially because of the slowness, they become a rare form of drama.

Something else happens during all this: which is that our perception of and response to the body itself continually develops, alters, shifts. As these men part their legs, shift their pelvises, ripple their spines, there’s little we don’t know about their groins. And their bodies as a whole keep taking on new looks as we go on watching. It helps that Mr. Asriel’s soft-muscled body is unlike the firmer definition of Mr. Johnson. The flow of lines in the abdomen, the back, the pelvis, the leg is wholly dissimilar in each case — and marvelously absorbing.

The duets for the women, though less enthralling, are more dancy and have a wry formality, not without absurdity (those balloons), that makes a perfect contrast to what’s happening between the guys on the right. The women bend their spines, they extend their legs, they sustain specific arm positions, and yet there’s a quality of pedestrianism to all they do.

Later the two couples meet. Some of this involves a happy sense of play — as the women thwack the men with those balloons, they keep redirecting them — and some of it involves more conventionally choreographic patterns, groups, lines. Yet conventionality has been removed by the nakedness of the two men. Arabesques, tilts of the torso, semicircular swings of the leg — these are simply not the same when two of the pelvises involved are naked.

It’s very possible that “Fort Blossom revisited” would be largely unremarkable if all four performers wore the same clothes. I refer to it as dance theater, but should I? Its four performers are certainly trained dancers, sometimes delivering academic dance position and steps, often showing evident physical control. But the steps don’t build into much by way of phrases; dancing itself seems to be deconstructed here. Yet meanings, ideas, contrasts, drama, keep growing as you watch. Dance, the body, and erotics are topics about which “Fort Blossom revisited” keeps testing, investigating and analyzing, and often brilliantly. Leaving the theater we are no longer quite what we were when we arrived.

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Flynn Center for the Performing Arts

Flynn Center for the Performing Arts
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