Preview: John Jasperse’s Canyon at the Wexner Center

From the April 26, 2012 edition

An interview with John Jasperse should be approached gingerly. Choreographing both in the U.S. and abroad since 1985, he often speaks of his problematic relationship to dance, plus the tension between the visceral experience of movement and how language impinges upon that experience.

“I have vacillated between loving it, trusting it and having deep reservations about it,” Jasperse said about dance. “In truth, I often feel both at the same time.

“The aspect of dance which I’m most connected to is its capacity to touch an aspect of life experience which is beyond words, beyond language,” he said.

Jasperse and company return to the Wexner Center for four performances of “Canyon,” his most recent work, which premiered last September in Philadelphia. He is making a virtue of the necessity of cutting the cast from six to five (one of the performers is sidelined with an injury).

“Originally the work was performed in a larger theater than at the Wexner, and I wanted to retain a kind of spacious quality, so the shift to a slightly smaller ensemble seemed appropriate,” he said.

“We are trying something different at the Wexner and we are definitely embracing its defiantly asymmetrical architecture,” he said. “Instead of a frontal presentation, we are placing the audience on three sides, both on the floor and in the balcony.” He hopes the effect is to create something of an audience canyon with the performers at the bottom.

As a title, “Canyon” appealed to Jasperse because the term suggests not the majestic “imposition into physical space, like a mountain,” but instead the majestic yielding of space. “I also liked the sense that this huge environment is created over an exceptionally long period of time through the simple act of erosion. So it linked together the miniscule and the ordinary with the mammoth and extraordinary.”

“I see dance-making as a puzzle, with problems that appear in the creative process that need to be solved,” Jasperse said. “An interview is also a puzzle, a problem to be solved. I like puzzles.”