Review: Humor and athleticism in Jasperse piece

Jul. 10, 2014 @ 10:57 AM

If you want an hour in the theater to pass quickly, spend time with work by modern dance choreographer John Jasperse. The American Dance Festival premiere of his ADF-commissioned work, “Within Between,” offered a memorable evening on Tuesday at Reynolds Industries Theatre.

A score of varied sounds and music, lighting in bright, tropical hues, movement by turns classical and modern, and use of humor sustain interest.
The first moments make it clear that this will be no ordinary experience. The dance begins with the house lights up and French dancer Simon Courchel carrying a very long, metal pole as he walks toward the front of the stage. There’s dramatic tension and nervous laughter as he keeps going until he reaches the edge of the stage and his pole extends to the third row of the audience. It looks like he’s being careful not to poke anyone but he also doesn’t seem in any hurry to withdraw the pole.
In the next section, this pole plays an integral role in the choreography as dancers balance it while at the same time creating a seamless flow of movement. They support the pole as they crouch, stand and swivel. When they roll like logs on the floor, the pole rolls right along on top of them without falling off. There’s also suspense when the pole begins rolling down a dancer’s leg and it looks as if he won’t be able to keep it from crashing to the floor. But at the last minute, he flexes his foot forward and catches it.
The pole balancing also includes a funny moment when Courchel, Burr Johnson and Stuart Singer walk in a line as they balance the pole on one shoulder. When Maggie Cloud attempts to join them, she’s too short to support the pole. So, she stands on her toes so her shoulder makes contact and stays on her toes to walk with the others. Humor seems to be a rare commodity in modern dance, so it’s especially delightful when a choreographer uses it so well.
In the rest of the dance, movement includes some classical ballet. One classical-looking pose may be satiric because the raised hand gesture – fingers spread wide and extremely articulated – seems overly dramatic. Other times, quirky moves pop up. A dancer bends forward, thrusts both arms between her legs, sticks her hands out and wriggles her fingers. Another time, a dancer’s arms go rag doll limp and flap from side-to-side as he vigorously twists his torso.
Dancers provide their own music as they stamp their feet, clap their hands and slap their bodies. Other music includes Claude Debussy’s “Claire de Lune,” bluegrass and a marching band. Then, there’s spoken word both recorded and live. The live speaking occurs in the last section in which two men describe what they are doing such as “I drop my arm.” Other times, what they are doing suggests that one’s interest in the other is not reciprocated. One man says, “I crawl away from you quickly.” The other man says, “I watch you.” Then the first man says, “I go” and walks offstage as the dance ends.