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Aural Report

TBA & John Jasperse Company's 'California'
Dance? Art? What's not to get?
by Kurt Dahlke

f you're anything like me you spend an inordinate amount of time questioning the whys and wherefores of things that can't be changed and have no answers.

But after a couple free pints of beer and some yummy food you also might ask "why?" when confronted with a jump-suited woman using a leaf blower on a huge, floating plastic amoeba while a piano clangs in the background.

PICA's Time-Based Art Festival and John Jasperse Company: raising some interesting questions.

It's the John Jasperse Company's "California," one of many modern dance performances (among multitudinous other offerings) put on last month for PICA's Time-Based Art Festival. TBA – and its kickoff/thank-the-donors party – raises some interesting questions. Not the least of which is: "Why do we do it?"

Why choreograph "California"?

An hour-long piece, "California" purports to tell a dystopian story – an area of fascination for Jasperse, according to his publicity materials.

Not being a Jasperse scholar, my whys and wherefores relating to the aforementioned dystopian dance are quite subjectively based. I recognize the signifiers of dystopian thought used by Jasperse – blue-gray jumpsuits, noisy, inefficient machines, floating geometric amoebas and writhing – but seemingly miss the thrust of the story.


A few types of motions are repeated by the dancers while sparse, simple piano motifs and slithery found-object percussion establish a nicely downbeat, soporific atmosphere. These stylistic riffs then do little but vary slightly until the end, when huge "wake-up" crashing sounds begin to frighten children in the audience.

During this ultimate audio cataclysm, the dancers (who have been alternating between floor-writhing, leaf blowing and exhilaratingly fleshy, frantic, gymnastic-tai-chi pas-de-deux) tear off their jumpsuits to reveal mummy-style underwear. It is then that they start pulling apart the plastic amoeba.

As I read this performance, it tells us that life is mostly drab and repetitive until we die and destroy the amoeba. I can't figure out where the underwear comes from and find it hard to relate the proceedings in any way to California. Except for the leaf blowers. Maybe Jasperse comes from Fresno.

And maybe "California" shouldn't be seen on a Friday night after beers – its hypnotic meditations are too subtle for the inactive mind. Nonetheless, difficult work like this is bound to leave many spectators by the roadside.

"California," here we come: but maybe not on a Friday after free beer.

Which leads me back to earlier at the party, sponging off the good graces of PICA's corporate and private sponsors. During the speeches acknowledging everyone's hard work and support, they ask if we'd like champagne for the toast.

The yummy, yummy toast points with smoked salmon or chicken? No, the toast is for those who see a bunch of talented weirdos making forward-thinking art, package it as a festival and commit to funding it.

Yes, Portland's a good town for art, but the majority of the populace will miss this festival and many that go won't "get" it.

So why do it? Any of it? Could it be that creativity elevates our culture, enriches and exercises our minds, and yet we don't get enough of it?

Sounds right to me, and though I'm among those who don't "get" "California," right now I can't get enough of this lovely beer and salami.

Hearty thanks to PICA for fighting the good fight. Support the arts!

E-mail Kurt at orangeandorange@msn.com, and don't miss his previous reports.

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