John Jasperse Company
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
San Francisco, April, 09
Misuse Liable To Prosecution
Photo: Joseph Leavasseur.
Misuse Liable To Prosecution, which could have been titled, Dance For Economic Downsizing At The End Of The World As We Know, is a rainbow full of fairy munchkin giggles arching over a drowning world. It is the breathtaking beauty of famine, melting polar icecaps, the shrapnel of flying glass from a car accident, or the beautiful sculpture/assemblage of a street person’s night camp. To be inventive without gimmick, to make the profane sacred without trying, to seduce without manipulating, and to do this with effortless grace and humor is not only rare, but a stroke of genius by John Jasperse and composer musician, Zeena Parkin.
The origin of Misuse Liable To Prosecution began as a challenge in 2007 - when the piece premiered - after Jasperse assigned himself a production budget of zero. He dared himself based on his political/social/environmental concerns to create a set, and costume for his five dancers, completely of recycled materials and found objects, including thousands of donated clothes hangers. While it’s not uncommon for dance companies to spend anywhere from $35,000 on up, to date he has spent a total of $163.55 of which he hopes to reduce by $24.84 thanks to the “generous unlimited return policy of Bed, Bath, and Beyond.”
Jasperse is an immediately affable guy, leaning on the adorable. He both dances in the performance and introduces himself at its beginning, addressing the audience through one of the set’s orange traffic-street cones that he uses as a megaphone – “Hi. My name is John Jasperse. I wanted to welcome you and thank you for coming to the show…” What comes out of his mouth next is far from cute and cuts to the chase in a series of statistics on the state of the world, particularly on capitalism, waste, and economic privilege. He even warns the audience that it’s in our interest to know where the nearest exit is in case “something bad” should happen. The audience chuckles - the way that airplane passengers pretend indifference while being instructed about emergency exits - not knowing if he’s serious while internally accepting that these are the times we live in, where no one is immune. Except maybe for Judge Judy, whom he tells us makes “$26 million more per year than the total salary of all nine Supreme Court justices combined.”
What follows is a fully realized piece of theater where dance, original score, and set all interact with dignity of purpose and relationship in a self effacing, light hearted, and vigorous fashion, while addressing through movement and interaction with the set, the social/environmental issues expressed earlier. The brilliance of the choreography comes when invention isn’t sacrificed for statement and from the knitting/crocheting rhythms and gestures of looping and interlacing movements. This happens both on a grand scale as dancers intertwine and collide with each other during intentionally clumsy forms of athleticism or when, as a duet, they knit one and pearl two with their legs as crochet needles moving crab-like through the stage under dangling hangers.
Whether dancers are taking off their 501s and slapping them to the floor or snapping them like whips in the air, whether they slam themselves against a dancing air mattress, horde plastic bottles, or follow Jasperse strolling through the set with a beanbag on his head - before falling into it, tossing it, running into it, or rolling across it - movement is being redefined. Which is a really good thing considering the audience is sitting in a theater potentially under terrorist threat, with most of us probably on drugs since, as he says, “US doctors prescribe more anti-depressants then any other medication,” and that this very theater would be completely “filled in less then 28 minutes from all the plastic beverage containers Americans consume…”
Socio/politico statistics aside, Zeena Parkin’s score is an integral part of the choreographic process, both dictating movement and responding to it. Her multi-instrumental composition is no less exhilarating or provocative than the choreography, as is her virtuosic skill on both acoustic and her one-of-a-kind electronic harp. This harp enables her to deconstruct the instrument, creating a blizzard of sound or a sparse requiem. Additional music comes from household objects, set props, the sounds these props make as dancers interact with them, bagpipes and other instruments. Equally impressive is her fashionable dress made from FedEx envelopes smartly accessorized in thrift-shop-chic heels FedEx-orange in color.