Jowitt on Jasperse; And some elaboration on why talking about money in art is lame

Deborah Jowitt’s review just came in through the V.V. At least someone out there, other than, you know, US, had something nice to say about Misuse.

Jowitt does a lot of “describing,” as per norm with her. The key factor is that she manages to move on from the statistical smoke screen, and is able to enjoy to work for the meat of its value.

And I feel like I need to make a note about my stance here. I usually defend an artist’s right to make their work, officially, “about” something. I was sternly critical of Alastair Macaulay’s comments on Reggie Wilson and Andréya Ouamb’s “Accounting for Customs,” which got a lot of attention back in August. Macaulay wrote, “the main spell of “Accounting for Customs” is of a beauty that transcends any socio-cultural message.”

What is problematic about this statement, first and foremost, is making beauty the agent of transcendence. Next, it’s specifically what Macaulay is transcending, which is race identity, which makes him literally look beyond the ethnic origins of the dancers before him. By doing so, this allows him to see through the dancer to an abstraction that is someone else entirely: it’s semiotic. In this way, a black ballerina dancing Juliette is still the white Juliette we all know and love. I find this a very problematic kind of transcendence, especially with a new work of art.

On the other hand, John Jasperse’s “subject” is not specific to the cultural realities of the dancers, at least, not in a socio-genetic way ( i.e. dancers have not been the victims of massive legal and social discrimination in this country, as, say, black people and other minorities have, which included discrimination against participation even in this very art form. ) In fact, the best way to appreciate the work of John Jasperse and his dancers is only to observe their bodies and what their bodies are doing on stage, rather than to filter what they are doing on stage through a series of preconceptions about economic inequality. See what they’re doing. Feel it. More than thinking about it.

I also find this negative complaint typical of the NY dance world: I know I’m not the only one. It has a tendency to position dance at a subliminal disadvantage, rather than, what seems to be the desired effect, to make people perceive the work as valuable. Whether we like it or not, in our culture, if something isn’t making money, there’s something wrong with the product, not the consumer. The fact is, there are choreographers who are making lots of money. Pina Bausch’s “royalty” fee for a single run of her shows is almost what Jasperse makes in a year. (That’s a statistic I’m sure Jasperse would have loved to have his hands on.) This kind of argumenting can go on and on, and it will get really thorny very quickly. Comparative economics don’t make any sense. They’re irrational to a point that is maddening. So to bring them up before a performance does little clarify why his dance is undervalued (in terms of dollars) and why Judge Judy is rolling around in her piles of cash.

So when I suggested that the effect of the opening monologue was “happily irrelevent,” I meant that any complications that might have arisen from dwelling too much on the behind-the-scenes statistics, were soon swept aside by the captivating performances of Jasperse and his dancers.


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