John Jasperse Projects: Remains
Wednesday, July 6, 2016
Reynolds Industries Theater, Durham

When the curtain rises—only slightly—on John Jasperse ProjectsRemains, dancer Maggie Cloud is prostrate on the stage, her limbs arranged like a classical Greek statue. Later she will return to a similar position, albeit shifted downstage, in an embrace with dancer Claire Westby. This reprisal of the work’s opening image seems, suddenly, like an ending, but it’s a tease—the picture would be too perfectly circular. Cloud exits the scene, leaving Westby with her legs suspended in the air. Westby gets up and the dance goes on.

In Remains, an American Dance Festival co-commission, “dance” often registers as a cycle of poses. Early on, the three women resemble the mythical Fates, or the Muses, or Homer’s sirens. (The work keeps us guessing.) Their arms drape over one another—they are casually elegant, and can’t be bothered. Three men repeat these poses, and different moments stick out. An arcing arm points toward an open mouth. It’s Dionysian, for a second. Dita Von Teese’s slick, bored voice drones over the bass of Die Antwoord’s “Gucci Coochie”: She gets everything she wants. She gets everything for free.

Nothing, of course, is free: a dance career, artistic success, or a ticket to an ADF show. But Jasperse is good at luxury. His ensembles are consistently impeccable, his sets like visual candy. In Remains, the lighting design by frequent collaborator Lenore Doxsee is stunning. A linear yellow fixture hangs from the rafters, slicing the bare stage into a smaller rectangle.

The movement, too, has a luxurious quality; dancers sink toward the floor while their limbs—and then, one by one, their digits—spiral outward, taking their sweet time. In Remains, these spirals evolve into tableaux, held briefly before disintegrating. The six dancers move in trios that mirror each other. They align for a gesture or two and then keep moving apart.

Throughout the work, I keep thinking: otherwise, elsewhere, excess, remains. What’s moving outside the frame? The performers peer off into space, as if pleading for clearance or approval. They are beholden to that elsewhere, even—especially—when it becomes us. In a long locomotive section, the dancers stare straight into the audience, some with glib smiles. Their steps are a variation on the triplet, a modern dance staple that covers a large amount of territory in a short amount of time. They don’t seem to stop. In my notes, I call it “the relentless triplet.”

How many times is enough? Remains tests the limits—the performers’, ours—gently. The piece’s “real” ending plays out over a metronome click and varied patterns of two spoken words, “back” and “forward.” The six figures are scattered across the stage, their movements governed by the recorded voice. Marc Crousillat walks repeatedly into the theater’s wood siding. He has nowhere else to go, until the voice changes. “Forward,” it says. But Crousillat’s body crawls backward. Still, it moves and maps space.

Legacy, like luxury, sounds elegant. This, too, can be an illusion. How to attend to the dull—the forgotten, material residue? Would you think twice about the indentation you leave in the theater seat? Crousillat’s fingertip sweat on the wood?

Life choreographs itself to the metronomic rhythm of back-forward-back-forward. It seems “forward” wins. But what actually propels us is what we leave behind: the particular deviations of everyday movement, the personal cartographies embodied. Jasperse and his tremendous dancers make works that affirm the purpose of bracketing movement onstage: to at once stop time and carry it forward, reminding us that we move, too.