Friday, March 2, 2012

Fort Blossom's Peaceable Kingdom

Photo: Maria Anguera de Sojo

As someone who has been around at the birth of landmark dance – contact improvisation, Trisha Brown classics – I know the feeling that some works are paradigm-shifting. What exactly makes them so is hard to pinpoint until time has elapsed. John Jasperse’s Fort Blossom revisited (2000/2012) belongs in that camp. Right now I think it’s because Jasperse has crafted a work that’s exquisite but tough, and formalism and felt humanity become unlikely but well-suited bedfellows.

Fort Blossom’s world begins as one of contrasts butting up against one another: the stage floor is half black/half beige, its two women are clothed and two men naked, its movement is hinged and robotic or full of a testing-out kind of exploration. By the time it concludes, after two long duets, one for the women, one for the men, and a final extended section for them all, distinctions co-exist peaceably and a kind of euphoric settledness has descended.

In its opening image, Ben Asriel inchworms prone across the stage, buttocks rising and pressing forward, as Lindsay Clark and Erika Hand, in tomato-colored A-line frocks, perform a unison duet. It’s full of sudden drops and architectural placements of their limbs in curious relationships to the squarish orange plastic bubbles each dons and wears like a goofy backpack. Ryoji Ikeda’s pulsing electronica with throbbing low tones and high pitched bleeps augments the futuristic feel. These women are on display, as plastic people, with perfect make-up, hair just so, hinging at the hips to peek-a-boo at the audience through their own legs while their red panties show, or walking slowly upstage on tip toe. They are objects worthy of admiration and perplexing, all at once. Their building and rebuilding of beautiful shapes, like so many block towers, satisfies.

Meantime Burr Johnson has found his way downstage, and lies atop Asriel, placing a clear plastic inflatable between them. As it deflates, Johnson’s hips grind and thrust. Seeing these men’s buttocks, genitals, squish onto each other, and later, their feet lifting each other’s scrotums, is far from dance as I conventionally think of it. Yet the slow, felt deliberateness of their action is riveting. The men are lithe and gorgeous, each muscle defined as in a textbook, their assholes, and all else, presented matter-of-factly, but definitely, in our face.

The men’s duet of Fort Blossom moves through phases from clinical and dispassionate to erotically charged, and takes its time to evolve and deepen, in the way that lovers might take a full afternoon exploring each other’s bodies. In complete silence its dynamics shift from slow and careful to more jagged or spasmodic.

If the first part of Fort Blossom seems to establish a never-the-twain-shall meet world, the second part erases those borders to find a place where the men and women settle into a mutual ‘creature-ness.’ They play, childlike, to Japanese samba, thwacking each other with their bubbles, falling, kerplunk, onto them or tossing them, spinning. That euphoria fades, like air seeping out of a balloon. The men then partner the women and all join in a long sweep of an upright phrase that’s continually tumbling into new curving pathways, like a twisty mountain road. Often hooking into momentary mirrorings, they slip along, and then brake, tumbling floor-ward at one moment, taking time for an ever-so-slow leg circle that eeks into reverse at another. With Ikeda’s elegiac harmonies, the effect is breathtaking.

At each step of the way, Fort Blossom seems to ask “How might we do this together?” Finding pleasure, experiencing difference and edge, parallel play, mutuality, and synergy: All these aspects of how humans are in each other’s company are rendered with aching directness. And counter to its seeming dystopian beginnings, Fort Blossom concludes with good news: our interchanges have value and tenderness and despite their challenges, serve us.

Dance, with bodies as its medium rather than paint or notes, is very directly about human beings even when it purports to be about space and shape. Fort Blossom revisited (2000/2012) is a study in human difference and complementarity. Its four dancers butt against, play off, ignore, and explore each other and ultimately settle into an easy co-existence, richer for each other’s presence. As a model of behavior, it’s hopeful. And the craft that went into shaping its often-changing and mysteriously moving atmosphere is prodigious.

Fort Blossom revisited (2000/2012), John Jasperse Company, Bryn Mawr College, February 24-26, 2012. No further performances.

Writer’s note: I Coordinate the Bryn Mawr College Performing Arts Series which presented this production.