These days, when everything from cars to concerts is being marketed as "green" or "eco-friendly," you might not be impressed to learn that...
These days, when everything from cars to concerts is being marketed as “green” or “eco-friendly,” you might not be impressed to learn that a New York dance company is visiting Seattle’s On the Boards with a new production in which everything — costumes, sets and props — is recycled.
But it’s not just a gimmick for the John Jasperse Company. Modern-dance troupes — even those as acclaimed as this one — live on the fringes of America’s prosperous economy. Their members probably think as deeply as anyone about poverty, consumption and waste.
Jasperse’s new work (cumbersomely titled “Misuse liable to prosecution”) has the messy, informal vibe of a ’60s-era “happening.” But its subject matter is pure 21st century. It explores some of the same themes as zeitgeisty books like Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed” (economic inequality, consumerism), albeit in a more abstract, performance-arty way.
The set is made up of old hangers, dangling from the ceiling like vines, alongside ropes and fluorescent lights. Jasperse, dressed in a mish-mash of secondhand clothes, addresses the audience at the start through an orange construction cone that he wields like a megaphone. He recites various statistics (“It takes twice as much water to manufacture a plastic water bottle as can be contained in that water bottle”) that help make sense of some of the images that follow.
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Jasperse is joined by two men and two women who undertake a series of activities: The women stuff their shirts with plastic bottles and then engage in a kind of stylized wrestling match. A man slowly staggers across the stage, his progress hindered by armloads of cleaning implements. Performers use household furnishings (a beanbag chair, a mattress) as weapons and also as shields against human contact.
Are we trapped by the products we own? How much stuff is enough?
The performance has some dancey passages, too: a couple of pretty duets in which partners intertwine and unravel; a quartet that ends with dancers ramming into each other like wayward bumper cars. But these parts are less interesting than the more theatrical vignettes, which are thought-provoking and sometimes funny.
“Misuse liable to prosecution” has a score by electric harpist Zeena Parkins — an oddball but appealing collage of squeaking, typing, plinking and crackling sounds, augmented by a bagpiper. It’s only an hour long, and it doesn’t have a real ending, which Jasperse readily admits to the audience in closing remarks (delivered, once again, through the megaphone). Overall, the piece doesn’t pack enough wallop to make anyone give up their SUV or donate all their money to charity. But it may make you think twice next time you lift that bottled water to your lips.
Lynn Jacobson: 206-464-2714 or firstname.lastname@example.org