A linchpin of downtown New York dance and performance for more than 20 years, John Jasperse has developed a reputation for clever, intellectually rewarding works that leave audiences wowed. Truth, Revised Histories, Wishful Thinking, and Flat Out Lies, the newest piece from this American innovator, is seasoned with his distinct humor—and incorporates a childhood passion for magic tricks. Exploring the often fluid boundaries between fantasy and reality, it touches on dual traditions of live performance: the cultivation of illusion in the service of theatrical magic, and the shunning of it in search of an expression that is (or is perceived to be) honest, neutral, or demystified—“truthful.”
Juxtaposing a host of dance, performance, and music styles, Truth bounces between the sincere and the ironic, and the result is a piece that feels a bit like a series of inflating balloons that either burst or deflate, over and over, in surprising ways. “The constant shifting in Truth asks people to look at their own aesthetic system of value,” says Jasperse, who performs the piece with four members of his company. “I’m trying to create a process for people to ask ‘Why do I like this?’ ‘Why am I not interested in that?’ ‘Why is that sexy, why is that stupid?’”
Beyond aesthetic considerations, Truth prompts an examination of our broader belief systems as well. As Jasperse puts it: “When do I as an audience member invest and say ‘I believe’—and why, in another moment, do I resist?” Philip Bither, McGuire Senior Curator for Performing Arts, says Jasperse is constantly questioning the art form of dance: “He’s brilliant in that he can make a work that speaks to universal philosophical questions and is at the same time highly entertaining.”
In developing Truth, Jasperse was struck by two quotes from legendary 19th-century American humorists: “Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable” (Mark Twain) and “As scarce as truth is, the supply has always been in excess of the demand” (Josh Billings). He says he found that not only did these quips illuminate what happens when the fake transforms over to the real, or how one can slide into the other, but they also resonated with recent American culture and its strongly present themes of “truth and fiction and politics and sales.”
By deftly juggling so many ideas, it’s probably not surprising that Truth’s aesthetic sensibility is motley, ranging from cheap to surprisingly refined. Exploring ways that our beliefs can alternately shield us from or illuminate diverse aspects of truth, it creates an experience defined as much by what is hidden as by what is revealed. In the end, the audience is left to decide what is solid and what is full of hot air, what is real and what is ruse.
The performance features music by Hahn Rowe for string quartet and electronics, performed live by Rowe; Michelle Kinney, cello (Jelloslave/Mississippi Peace); Angelique Gaudette, viola (Flower and Flame); Nicholas Gaudette, bass (Orange Mighty Trio/Mississippi Peace); and Melissa Mathews, violin (Mississippi Peace/Ukrainian Village Band/Machinery Hill/Mandragora Tango).
—Walker Magazine May/June 2010