The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2012

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MAY 2012 Issue
Dance In Conversation

JOHN JASPERSE with Aaron Mattocks

In 2000 at the Kitchen, choreographer John Jasperse premiered Fort Blossom, which features a lengthy nude male duet that confronts the gaze of the audience in surprising ways. In a rare look back, Jasperse will reinvestigate the work at New York Live Arts from May 9 – 12, by creating an expanded version: Fort Blossom revisited (2000/2012). Aaron Mattocks met with him to discuss the revival.

John Jasperse's Fort Blossom revisited (2000/2012). Photo credit: Lindsey Browning.

Aaron Mattocks (Rail): What about Fort Blossom made you want to look at it again?

John Jasperse: This piece has been magical for me, both the first time around and this time, for very different reasons. The New York dancer of my era was trying to propose a mythical, neutral body. I think that’s somewhat the legacy of a certain generation of American postmodernism: this aspiration towards neutrality. Everybody always knew that it was only theoretical, and there was this presence of ambivalent sexuality that was impossible to ignore. I wanted to make this critique about what I saw as an ultimately pornographic vision of the body that most people brought to dance without ever having to take any responsibility for it. I didn’t want to be in this form where people go because they want to see young, fit, tight bodies and say, “They have a nice ass,” and feel validated and not threatened in that space because it’s art.

Rail: The dance is shocking to me. Still.

Jasperse: In what way?

Rail: In the way that I, as a viewer, have to confront all of these issues about the male body.

Jasperse: The project seems so simple. It’s men, women, clothed, naked, red, beige. All of the contrasts are so basic, it really dupes you into feeling like, “Oh, I get it. I know what this is.” And then the moment that you get into it, it manifests itself as being much more confusing.

Somebody described it as having this animal kind of energy, because, well, the dog doesn’t have self-consciousness. The dog wants to eat the hamburger and hump your leg. Shame doesn’t exist for the dog. It’s a human experience. So if you’re thinking about the piece—the sexualized vision of it—can you get to a certain point where you say, “Whatever, I’m done thinking about it like that”? Not because you have to push it away, but because you’ve allowed yourself to be in that space, and now it’s passed and you see it in another way. Some people are going to be like, “Assholes—hot,” and some people are going to be like, “Assholes—gross.” It draws us into examining how those things function within us, and the potential of disarming that. Of becoming a little more fluid.

Rail: In other words, you’ve removed the filter of self-consciousness in the choreography, and it’s up to us to meet you there. You’ve laid the terrain: this is what bodies are without shame. And then we have to negotiate where we run up against ourselves.

Jasperse: I can experience my body in a scientific, medical way, and I can experience it in a sexual way, and I can experience it imagining what it’s like in terms of being seen as a sculptural or aesthetic object. And there’s the sensorial. I don’t commit to any of them. If I feel like I’m getting stuck somewhere, I need to shift.

Rail: So then my experience watching it is just passing through all of those states: seeing it as just a dance, seeing it as sometimes sexual, seeing it as clinical.

Jasperse: Yes. You were talking about having to confront your own sense of the piece. Well, I used to be in it. I approached it so differently because of who I am, and my own history, and my own challenges in conceiving of myself as an object of desire. But I’ve removed myself from it. And one could argue that I’ve removed myself because this body, at 48 years old, is no longer part of that potential. And I really don’t want to be involved in saying that. This felt like a good way of equalizing the space, and saying, “You all now own this, and this is your experience.” I’m really here in a different relationship to it. As a participant.


Aaron Mattocks

AARON MATTOCKS ( is a performer, writer, and a founding member of the Collective for Dance Writing and New Media.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2012

All Issues