Choreographer John Jasperse to deepen “Canyon” at Mass MoCA

From our News Desk: One of the ways choreographers, dancers, playwrights and theatre companies are funding their works is through a series of residencies at various colleges, art galleries and other institutions. at the end of each week they do a work in progress showing, and eventually, over many months, a new finished work emerges.

Or goes on to yet another interation in an endless process. John Jasperse has become an expert at milking this cow. We will have a chance to see what he is up to later this month. This is creative movement that is explained in more visual arts terms than theatrical ones.

That’s because a weeklong August residency by the John Jasperse Company is at Mass MoCA and will culminate in a work-in-progress showing of Jasperse’s latest evening-length work entitled Canyon.

The piece will premier at the Philly Live Arts Festival in September 2011 and will be performed as a part of Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival in Novmber 2011.

Jasperse explains that the title is about opening out, not closing in. He says, “A canyon is a majestic natural space that isn’t about imposing but instead about receeding, about giving way, about opening up. You can see a mountain clearly from far away imposing itself into the space around it. The mountain gradually gets bigger and bigger in your vision as you approach it. A canyon is different. You can be completely unaware of it as you approach it. Suddenly it seems as if the earth has split open from beneath you, as if the earth gasped. It takes you by surprise..”

This collaborative work between the choreographer and the dancers features original music by Hahn Rowe, visual design by Tony Orrico, and lighting design by James Clotfelter. The performer/collaborators are Lindsay Clark, Erin Cornell, Kennis Hawkins, Burr Johnson, James McGinn, and John Jasperse.

As Jasperse explained to, he is struggling with authorship of the piece meaning how much control to exert over each dancer’s movement versus letting the dancer rely on his or her own instincts and judgment in the performance of the piece. He is trying to strike the balance between randomness and uber-control.

John Jasperse is preparing "Canyon" with his dancers.

In Canyon, he seeks to put dance in the ‘front plane’ by engaging the audience with the dance rather than with the linguistic portrayal of it. He wonders whether the audience can appreciate something that couldn’t be explained to them, something that they would have to interpret on a non-verbal, perhaps even a subconscious, level.

“If you can’t comprehend it, can it still engage you?” Jasperse asks.

Originally from Rockville, Maryland, John Jasperse graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 1985; since then he has been based in New York City. He worked from 1987 to 1993 with Jennifer Monson; in 1988 and 1989 he performed with Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s company, Rosas, in Belgium. In 1991 he founded John Jasperse Company, which presents live performances of contemporary dance featuring choreography by John Jasperse and engages in a broad range of residency activities in the US and abroad. The Company aims to challenge and engage audiences in rich, innovative aesthetic and intellectual experiences, thereby expanding the form.

Jasperse’s work has been performed in the United States, Brazil, Chile, Israel, Japan, and throughout Europe, including such venues as the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival, the Venice Biennale, the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, Minnesota), and Tanz im August in Berlin. Mikhail Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project, Batsheva Dance Company and the Lyon Opera Ballet have all commissioned work from him.

Among his — and his company’s — many awards, grants, and fellowships are a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation award , two Bessie Awards, and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and New York Foundation for the Arts). He was awarded a grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award and the Tides Foundation’s Lambent Fellowship.

Tickets for John Jasperse: Canyon are $15. MASS MoCA members receive a 10% discount. Tickets are available through the MASS MoCA Box Office located off Marshall Street in North Adams, open from 10 A.M. until 6 P.M. every day. Tickets can also be charged by phone by calling 413.662.2111 during Box Office hours or purchased on line at

MASS MoCA, the largest center for contemporary visual and performing arts in the United States, is located off Marshall Street in North Adams on a 13-acre campus of renovated 19th-century factory buildings. MASS MoCA is an independent 501c(3) whose operations and programming are funded through admissions and commercial lease revenue, corporate and foundation grants, and individual philanthropy. Except for an initial construction grant from the Commonwealth, and competitive program and operations grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Cultural Council, MASS MoCA is privately funded: 90% of annual operating revenues are from earned revenues, membership support, and private gifts and grants.

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