In dealing with the subject of truth, shades of gray rather than absolutes seem more attuned to reality. Then again, what exactly is the truth of something? And what about a half-truth? Or one’s own truth? And when is that interpretation real, or just an illusion?
Deep and profound questions that are never easy to answer these are, and they may elicit more than a groan. But choreographer, dancer, educator and artistic director of his own company, John Jaspers, makes a go of it with his critically-acclaimed piece Truth, Revised Histories, Wishful Thinking, and Flat Out Lies.
The 80-minute work made its debut in Germany in 2009, and this Friday and Saturday (April 13-14) at 8 p.m., as part of the Miami Dade College’s MDC Live! Performing Arts Series, at the Colony Theater in South Beach, South Floridians will get the chance to partake in Jasper’s own vision of what is truthful and meaningful, and what is not.
Artburst spoke with Jasperse via phone this week from NYC as he was heading down to Miami, where he would be offering master classes.
Artburst: This is Truth, Revised Histories’ premiere in Miami. Have you been or performed here before?
JJ: I haven’t been in quite some time. We were in Miami with the Florida Dance Association Festival, somewhere in the mid-2000s.
Do you have any memories or recollections of what the dance community in South Florida is like?
JJ: I’m only a little bit familiar. When you’re touring, it’s so brief. It’s very difficult to really get the feel for what’s going on. I think also, what’s interesting for me, is that I have a sister who lives in southern Florida, so I have spent time outside of the context of the dance world.
In a 2010 interview you said something that was very candid, and that I normally don’t hear from choreographers or dancers, who may have a reputation for being prima donnas or having big egos, but you went on to say that you are at a stage in your life and your career where, although you’re not old, you’re also not as young as some of the people you’re dancing with, and that maybe the space of your relevance shifts. Are those ideas still relevant?
JJ: It’s very tricky when you talk about relevance, because in order to talk about relevance, you have to talk about relevance to what. It’s no secret that the world is generally an ageist place. And that’s not true across the board, but I feel that dance is particularly that way, in that we are dealing with bodies, and there’s a kind of assumption in the history of dance that we want to look young, fit, un-aged. When I talk about relevance, the question is, do I want to be inside a group of people as the same?
And there’s the big tradition in American modern dance of the ensemble of young people, and then the older choreographer comes out and does a solo. But the difference between the ensemble and that figure isn’t always necessarily integrated into the dramaturgy of the work, and I’m interested in that. I am not trying to pretend that I’m 23-years-old. I’m very clear that here’s the 23-year-old in the show, and then I’m 48.
Did you find that you were able, through modern dance, to actually make the elements that form the title of your piece, Truth, Revised Histories, Wishful Thinking, and Flat Out Lies, come through? Did you succeed at that?
JJ: Success or failure, I leave that to somebody else to kind of judge. I don’t think I have a role of measuring that. But, what I will say, so many people talk about their difficulty with contemporary dance, trying to figure out how they’re supposed to read it. There’s a long history of people trying to understand dance in a way that I don’t think dance necessarily offers. They feel like there’s this mystery, code, that some people are privy to, but they didn’t get the code, so they don’t understand what this is supposed to mean, because they’re looking for everything to be translated as a symbol of some other thing, instead of actually looking at it for what it actually is, and engaging in this kind of poetic.
That said, we’re playing with a lot of performance history and style that is intentionally recognizable. There are these standards by which people can basically set up a system whereby then they know whether the product is good or not.
MDC Live! Performing Arts Series presents the John Jasperse Company’s ‘Truth, Revised Histories, Wishful Thinking, and Flat Out Lies,’ on Friday and Saturday April 13 and 14 at 8 p.m., The Colony Theatre, 1040 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach. Tickets: $30 general admission. $20 for non-MDC students and seniors. $10 for MDC students, faculty and staff. Must show ID; 305-237-3010. Or visit www.mdc.edu/mdclive.