Last time John Jasperse was in Houston, he exposed himself. In Excessories, the piece that catapulted the dancer and choreographer to avant-garde acclaim, Jasperse and his deadpan dancers stood facing the audience at DiverseWorks and moved their penises and breasts in a little dance of their own.
This time through, the John Jasperse Dance Company is significantly more subtle. Madison, as I imagine it may be a self-conscious study in various body parts, but it sticks with the more public appendages. Whole sections of this 70-minute work are led entirely by the hands, feet, arms or legs, sometimes moving in isolation, sometimes determining the quality and direction of the rest of the body's movement.
Jasperse controls the focus by putting the dancers into unusual positions, most often ones that highlights the backs of their legs and the soles of their feet, but which also offer an inescapable view of the crotch. Bending over, with their heads away from the audience, in preparation for what might be an incorrect push-up, the dancers get tangled up in floorwork, hooking feet under knees, sliding one knee between two others or helicoptering their legs as they roll over each other. Set to Hahn Rowe's ambient score, which builds in intensity from a sound similar to the quiet bursting of bubbles, the patterns of legs uncovered in this position are at times absolutely mesmerizing, but Jasperse's point is slowly made and more theoretical than theatrical by the end.
This is not to say that Madison doesn't have its dramatic pure-dance moments: sharp and repeating arm sequences; a woman's foot planted on a man's chest; a pinky struggle between two men, one lying on top of a crooked table and another underneath; a crouching man who brings a woman's feet up to relevé by tickling her heels; two women in bright, layered skirts that look to be straight off the racks at Urban Outfitters pose awkwardly with pigeon-toes and arched backs; and the captivating quartet of Jasperse and Miguel Gutierrez's red-fingernailed, disembodied hands. Draped over their still, reclining bodies, the fingers separate and come back together one by one, then run through a combination of poking, scratching and massaging.
But most interesting are the moments when Jasperse abandons his central exploration of the body for more prop-based choreography. Madison begins in the dark with the loud clanging of buckets, which you later discover are being rolled around dancers Juliette Mapp and Parker Lutz in perfect circles and in perfect unison. The image is surprisingly beautiful.
Later, a pas de deux between Mapp and Jasperse has the pair dressing each other up in the odd materials you might find in a kitchen junk drawer: She ties a string around his head like a blindfold; he puts a stone in her armpit; she fits the handle of a pair of fingernail clippers over his toes; he fashions her a tinfoil skirt; she puts pennies in his ear; he socks her foot with a rubber glove Each one admires his own handiwork but seems to object to the impositions of the other. It seems at first like a cheap comedic trick, until Lutz and Gutierrez appear in the same getups and, after a walking pattern, the foursome ends up in different pairs. The new partners slowly remove each other's absurd accoutrements and affix them to the upstage scrim like a work of abstract art. Then they step back and look at the creations born of the vestiges of their last relationships, with wonder at how they ever could have worn those things and nostalgia at seeing them from a distance.
Madison, as I imagine it is a curious piece with an even more curious title. But it makes perfect sense to the dancers who have worked in collaboration with Jasperse on the choreography. Mapp, who is from Madison, Wisconsin, used to tell them such "weird" stories about her hometown that the Midwestern outpost became a fixture in their imaginations, a place of possibility, an alternate reality where people, ideas and bodies could relate to each other in ways new and different from how they do in the throng of the Big Apple, or in Jasperse's earlier work. While this sort of existential exploration might lead to a fascinating choreographic workshop, in and of itself it makes for hit-or-miss entertainment.
E-mail Lauren Kern at email@example.com.
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