If You’re Born on an Island, The Ocean Heals You: Jacob Jonas The Company’s Crash and Other Works

Photo: Matthew Brush.

The lights go out. After a minute of silence, the sound of waves begins slowly to increase. A single gold light from offstage-left comes up on a single dancer, clad in loose soft blue clothing, rolling slowly on the floor from right to left. As the dancer’s body rolls to the left edge of the stage, another dancer jumps onto the floor and they roll back to the right, then to the left again. Two more dancers join. Then four. All form into a lulling, rolling wave. Then one leg rises, then another, then another, then another, forming the shape of swelling whitecaps. The whitecaps begin to break apart into pools of activity and the dancers’ bodies rise to extend vertical shapes into the space. A human voice begins to sing; West African percussion begins to rattle. The day has begun.

So begins Jacob Jonas The Company’s new piece, Crash. As in their other work, such as Grey or Interconnect, the piece begins from fairly minimalist elements then builds to pulses of frenetic movement, tightly controlled. Unlike some of their other work, the movement in Crash has obvious natural reference: this is a piece about waves, specifically the waves of the ocean.

That might sound abstract, but it’s abstraction taken to the level of symbolism. The ocean means many things to many people, and it’s extremely rare to find a person here in the Pacific Northwest who doesn’t have deep emotions attached to the water. The ocean evoked in Crash evokes those feelings through movement, particularly in the way that the dancers pick up movements from other dancers and vary them ever so slightly — the way that each swell and crest varies ever so slightly from the others on the water. Crash uses the patterns of ocean waves to evoke fractals and chaos theory, and, I think, to symbolize the interconnectedness of humankind as well. As the Lake South song goes, “If you’re born on an island the ocean heals you,” and so many of us these past couple years have become islands. The water reconnects us. Crash may have its origins in the coastline of the Pacific Ocean, but the exquisite West African sounds played by Okaidja Afroso (himself born in Ghana) connect it to the Atlantic Ocean as well, and I’ve no doubt the Indian and the Arctic oceans are implied.

Photo: Matthew Brush

It’s an incredibly beautiful piece, filled with lyrical moments. The ocean described by Crash contains tumult and chaos but is finally and fundamentally pacific (as in peaceful).

The second piece on the bill, Juxtapose is not even remotely pacific.

True, it starts with almost complete motionlessness. In fact, it starts before it even starts. After the end of Crash, there is nominally an intermission. During that time, however, dancers begin to come out on to the proscenium at various intervals and plop their bodies down along the extremity of the Edmonds Center for the Arts stage, where they lie motionless through the entire intermission. Even after the intermission “ends” with the lights going down on the house, the dancers still lie motionless. The soft blues and greys of their earlier costumes (representing the water) have been replaced completely with black, and an accent of white on two of the dancers. A smoke machine has filled the stage with a light fog. It’s the very image of entropy.

After the first dancer bolts upright, however, the stasis quickly breaks. There is nothing but flat light from the house and stage to change the mood at first. There is no music. Instead, dancers use their feet against the floor as percussion. The dancers begin solos that eventually break down into literal piles of bodies on top of each other that reminded me of the early Jacob Jonas The Company piece On Me. These become duets where two dancers transfer force to each other through impact, while they are surrounded by a moving circle of the other dancers. There are several such duets.

Photo: Jacob Jonas.

When the music and lights finally do enter the picture, they are harsh. The music by Anibal Sandoval is completely electronic and atonal, like a Tod Dockstader soundtrack for an old science fiction film. The lights change immediately from flat to hard white spots that look like prison searchlights against a dark blue night. The dancers continue their duets and trade energy, first female to female body, then male to female, female to male, male to male — but now they do their best also to avoid the spotlights, as if this were an escape of some sort and not meant to be isolated. The movements are all angular, especially along the back-left/front-right diagonal of the stage. Then these too break down, eventually leading to lines where a solo dancer emerges then rejoins the line. None of this is toward the audience, but rather side to side on the stage.

For me, this piece seems like the picture of uncertainty. It is forceful, even violent at times, and builds around the transfer of power from one dancer to another while the stiffly arranged lines and masses of dancers stand detached, waiting to be activated. Each building block of the dance compares to another: angular duets against circular groups, quick movements of soloists against static lines of the group, floor-based power moves from breakdancing against vertical balletic language, and so on.

There’s a great beauty to this dance, too. Where Crash is a fairly straightforward, emotionally affecting piece, Juxtapose comes to emotion via the intellect. That is a rarely appreciated quality in the arts these days. Together they make an excellent double bill that gives a fair hint of the range of Jacob Jonas The Company and within contemporary dance itself.

Categories Dance

Omar Willey was born at St. Frances Cabrini Hospital in Seattle and grew up near Lucky Market on Beacon Avenue. He believes Seattle is the greatest city on Earth and came to this conclusion by travelling much of the Earth. He is a junior member of Lesser Seattle and, as an oboist, does not blow his own trumpet. Contact him at omar [at] seattlestar [dot] net

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