Points of View

Turmoil on Plazas, in Psyches, and in Your Lap

What perceptual habits and inner turbulence affect our vision of one another? The brilliant, disturbing just two dancers, created and performed by John Jasperse and Juliette Mapp at Dance Theater Workshop last week, embroils the audience in these questions. The view inside the theater is unsettling. Platforms set at different levels preempt blocks of seats. Long lace curtains stretch diagonally across the stage. Other curtains, masking a "window" behind the highest platform, blow in the breeze of a fan. We're handed five-by-seven-inch mirrors at the door.

The deadpan title is in itself misleading—"just"? This is a saga. And "two"? When Jasperse and Mapp climb to the lowest, center-front platform and he pries their handshake loose finger by finger, they are clearly two. But when she leans and gestures from the topmost left platform, and he does the same on the bottom right one, I—holding up my mirror, twisting in my seat—see three people, almost simultaneously. And while Mapp and Jasperse face each other, mirror-Mapp and head-on Jasperse seem to project their movements into eerie nothingness. Chris Peck's score, played in person by Peck (laptop/electronics) and collaborators Jaime Fennelly (electronics) and Regina Sadowski (violin), creates a landscape of disastrous, strident beauty—jungles and earthquakes of sound. The lights (designed by Jasperse and Joe Levasseur) are apt to accost us suddenly with a white glare.

Repetition has always figured in Jasperse's work. In this piece, it's obsessive. The two dancers lash their arms furiously for a very long time; they might be signaling, but eventually seem to be doing it without volition. They repair to the front platform and jump for what seems like hours. In one vignette, Mapp's voluptuous gyrations suggest a stripper having a fit.

Mapp (foreground) and Jasperse at DTW: commandeering spectators' space
photo: Richard Termine
Mapp (foreground) and Jasperse at DTW: commandeering spectators' space

Their contacts are alarming, violently needy—the pas de deux deconstructed. As they twist, sink, and rise, she keeps her cheek pressed to his chest; he mashes his face against her arm; she grasps him by the bridge of his nose while he holds her foot (the music sounds the way electric shocks must feel). They try to burrow into each other. By the end of the last encounter, she's inert and he's back on the stage repeating his first gestures. What has died here?

All this takes place perilously close to the spectators. People duck as Jasperse's leg swings over; a friend of Mapp's can touch her hand as she rolls past his knees. A spectator stops looking in his mirror and turns when something grazes the back of his neck. Just two dancers is as close to us as our breathing; we are separate from it, but never safe.


Dutch choreographer Beppe Blankert has created some remarkable works that challenge perception: In Double Track, action on a high platform behind the audience in the old DTW basement was reflected before us by a wall of mirrors. In her collaboration with Julia Mandle this spring, spectators could walk around to see what was going on in the rooms of Mandle's "house" within a former stable. At the end of May, Blankert's 1995 Odyssey: she was once a true love of mine, created with composer Louis Andriessen, took over an area of the plaza behind the World Financial Center as part of this summer's "River to River Festival."

The incongruities of the Manhattan setting are as entrancing as its suitability. A strong wind whips at the tattered sail that Odysseus (John Taylor) hauls up a sturdy mast. A red sun sets over a Hudson convincingly masquerading as the Aegean. The women singers and dancers repeatedly sweep across the plaza in trailing velvet cloaks, like dark waves. But the homeward-bound warrior, swaying at the rail of his terrace-ship, looks over a lower expanse of plaza where people walk their dogs, meet for a picnic, pass through, and stare up at him.

The scenario melds two Odysseuses: Homer's and James Joyce's. Actress Dawn Austin, who represents Penelope and home, also intermittently speaks Molly Bloom's words from Ulysses; perched on a tall structure that's concealed by a billowing skirt, shielded by an umbrella strung with lights, she's a formidable yet sensual presence as she discourses in a scornful brogue on the randiness and fickleness of men ("Where is their great intelligence? They have it in their tails.")

Andriessen's score is a marvel—some on tape, but the crux of it delivered by a Greek chorus of four sopranos who cluster as if to gossip, and cry out warnings and narratives in beautiful, edgy harmonies. Most impressive is when Taylor lashes himself to the mast and hangs there twisting while real wind, musical wind, and stormy dancing blast the fatal sirens' voices to him. The hero is beset by women. His first duet with Nanine Linning (Calypso) is perplexing. Neither the choreographer nor the marvelous Taylor fully convey the drama of a man succumbing to a seductive nymph; it becomes about her hurling herself onto him and him negotiating the catches and complex twinings. The encounter with Mirjam ter Linden (Circe) is clearer; she pursues him boldly, and he, tempted, rebuffs her. By the time night has fallen over Manhattan, the voyager is home in Ithaca.


Hubbard Street's powerhouse dancers are up for just about everything. The Chicago company, founded in 1977 by Lou Conte, has evolved from its roots in Broadway jazz to a repository for seven works by Twyla Tharp to a troupe that presents dances by well-known contemporary choreographers from overseas. Jim Vincent, who took over when Conte retired, may go further in that direction, having danced with both Jirí Kylián in the Netherlands and Nacho Duato in Spain.

On one of the company's two programs at the Joyce last week, the emphasis seemed to be on couples in high tension, except in Daniel Ezralow's popular 1989 Super Straight, in which everyone's locked into the frustrations you'd expect from people who emerge from garment bags. Four couples dance out their various hang-ups in Harrison McEldowney's Group Therapy, with Joseph P. Pantaleon a knockout in an angry jazz solo aimed at his chain-smoking sweetie (Erin Derstine). The beautiful Yael Litvin Saban and Massimo Pacilli wind through Duato's rapt, tender, swirling Cor Perdut.

Ohad Naharin's Passomezzo, splendidly performed by Cheryl Mann and Jamy Meek, is striking for the contrast between elegant structure and highly charged images. To various versions of "Greensleeves," the two seem to be investigating how they do and don't agree—whether they're marching in straight lines, or she's plummeting into his arms or sinking into a deep plié while standing on his chest. You can almost see them thinking when she picks up his worried walk-in-a-squat theme. The movement is always meaningful, touching.

I can't quite say that about Vincent's ambitious group piece, counter/part, to excerpts from various Bach concertos and suites. Vincent is fluent to the point of loquaciousness in a style that shows Duato's influence. Elbows crook, hands flex and jab, legs slash, bodies twist—all at the same level of intensity. There's fugitive drama: Julia Wollrab is stripped, piece by piece, of her costume and somehow mated with the terrific Meek (in a red half-skirt). The dancers deserve medals.

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