& John Jasperse Company's 'California'
Art? What's not to get?
you're anything like me you spend an inordinate amount of time questioning
the whys and wherefores of things that can't be changed and have
But after a couple free pints of beer and some yummy
food you also might ask "why?" when confronted with a
jump-suited woman using a leaf blower on a huge, floating plastic
amoeba while a piano clangs in the background.
It's the John Jasperse Company's "California," one of
many modern dance performances (among multitudinous other offerings)
put on last month for PICA's Time-Based Art Festival. TBA
and its kickoff/thank-the-donors party raises some interesting
questions. Not the least of which is: "Why do we do it?"
Why choreograph "California"?
An hour-long piece, "California" purports to tell a dystopian
story an area of fascination for Jasperse, according to his
Not being a Jasperse scholar, my whys and wherefores relating to
the aforementioned dystopian dance are quite subjectively based.
I recognize the signifiers of dystopian thought used by Jasperse
blue-gray jumpsuits, noisy, inefficient machines, floating
geometric amoebas and writhing but seemingly miss the thrust
of the story.
A few types of motions are repeated by the dancers while sparse,
simple piano motifs and slithery found-object percussion establish
a nicely downbeat, soporific atmosphere. These stylistic riffs then
do little but vary slightly until the end, when huge "wake-up"
crashing sounds begin to frighten children in the audience.
During this ultimate audio cataclysm, the dancers (who have been
alternating between floor-writhing, leaf blowing and exhilaratingly
fleshy, frantic, gymnastic-tai-chi pas-de-deux) tear off their jumpsuits
to reveal mummy-style underwear. It is then that they start pulling
apart the plastic amoeba.
As I read this performance, it tells us that life is mostly drab
and repetitive until we die and destroy the amoeba. I can't figure
out where the underwear comes from and find it hard to relate the
proceedings in any way to California. Except for the leaf blowers.
Maybe Jasperse comes from Fresno.
And maybe "California" shouldn't be seen on a Friday
night after beers its hypnotic meditations are too subtle
for the inactive mind. Nonetheless, difficult work like this is
bound to leave many spectators by the roadside.
here we come: but maybe not on a Friday after free beer.
Which leads me back to earlier at the party, sponging off the good
graces of PICA's corporate and private sponsors. During the speeches
acknowledging everyone's hard work and support, they ask if we'd
like champagne for the toast.
The yummy, yummy toast points with smoked salmon or chicken? No,
the toast is for those who see a bunch of talented weirdos making
forward-thinking art, package it as a festival and commit to funding
Yes, Portland's a good town for art, but the majority of the populace
will miss this festival and many that go won't "get" it.
So why do it? Any of it? Could it be that creativity elevates our
culture, enriches and exercises our minds, and yet we don't get
enough of it?
Sounds right to me, and though I'm among those who don't "get"
"California," right now I can't get enough of this lovely
beer and salami.
Hearty thanks to PICA for fighting the good fight. Support the