Taking It Lying Down: John Jasperse at The Kitchen
I could reach up and touch the razor burn on Luciana Achugar’s inner thigh. Eleanor Hullihan’s extended foot swept past my face, close enough for me to see a few unraveling strands of tape on one bandaged, dirty toe. Then she was gone, straddling me and hurtling backwards with startling speed. Levi Gonzalez was somewhere, doing something, but I couldn’t find his distorted body in the rows of fun-house mirrors swaying against the ceiling.
Private party? Sort of, with John Jasperse on hand to greet people at the door, after viewing instructions, coat and bag check and the exchange of shoes for white slippers. The choreographer transformed The Kitchen into an exclusive bed-in for Prone, with audience members alternating between chairs and rows of inflatable mattresses—but don’t let the superficial ties to the Happenings of old fool you. Jasperse’s concerns are unmistakably 21st Century.
Perception, relativism, the inability to have it all.
Outsider versus insider, proximity versus intimacy, freedom versus safety.
Choices, choices, choices.
We are presented with our first upon entering: sit or lie down? Two rows of chairs flank four rows of transparent air-mattresses. Those who choose the seats will end the performance on the beds, and vice versa. Which transition is better, will the two sections be the same? I choose to sit first, jotting notes before I become horizontal. As the lights dim, inflated plastic bags fall into what is normally the seating area with light rustles. The three dancers follow, tossing the transparent globes in front of them. What light there is reads like phosphorous in the amorphous forms, which float through the air and onto the lying audience members like a school of giant spectral jelly fish. The dancers climb down onto the stage, tossing the bags in front of them, and advance to the other side; viewers remain still as bags fall onto their face and dancers step over and between them. The immobility compromises their ability to watch, circumscribing their field of vision, but it is a necessary guard against increasingly aggressive, and formal, choreography. We may be in their space, but we are not equal participants. Jasperse is in charge, we do what he says. What’s a little less freedom when compared to people’s protection?
Still, there are choices in how to watch—use the mirrors as unreliable translators, observe surrounding minutiae, strain your eyes to catch peripheral action. Some are luckier than others (or unluckier, depending on how close is too close for comfort). One man gets an eyeful of Achugar’s crotch as she sinks into a deep plie over his chest; his wide eyes, darting up then out, are more of an event than the routine position. Hullihan bends down close to one woman, nuzzling her cheek; we can watch from our seats, but it’s an intimate moment, and private. Many of those lying down can’t see it at all. And then, later, they can’t see anything, as the dancers place strips of black cloth over their eyes. One man’s blindfold slips down, whether purposefully or no. After peering around for a moment he repositions it, choosing blindness.
When it is time to switch positions, we are not able to choose our mattresses. Handlers arrange the transition; between their gentle smiles, our uniform slippers and Zeena Parkins’s live, harp-infused ambient score, it feels a bit like a wacked-out spa, or sanitarium for the disaffected hipster. I hope for a good spot without really knowing what that is: something with lots of contact, I suppose.
On the ground, everything changes, becomes simpler. After a brief moment of self-consciousness and trying to scribble a few notes without moving my arms or lifting my head, I give myself over to the experience, something a reviewer is rarely able to fully do. It’s dizzying to keep track of all of the references in a given work, to make decisions and judgments—whether critical or artistic—in a relativistic world of multiplicities. We can’t see it all and, of course, we don’t need to (again, either as artist or critic) in order to make a valid statement about what we do see; but it’s easier to intellectually know this than know it in our bones. In both commenting on the difficulties of contemporary perception and freeing viewers from the tyranny of too much information, Prone manages a neat trick. There were no blindfolds in the second section, but I and many of the people around me closed our eyes anyway, as feet whisked around our heads and Parkins coaxed strange sounds from her instrument. We saw what we needed to see.
ContributorClaudia La Rocco
CLAUDIA LA ROCCO writes about performance for the New York Times and is the founder of thePerformanceClub.org, which won a 2011 Arts Writers Grant. She is a member of Off The Park press, where she is editing an anthology of poems by painters. She is on the faculty of the School of Visual Art's graduate program in Art Criticism and Writing.