Embodied Movement: Liza Batkin '14 reflects on dancing with John Jasperse

by Jihyun Ro

After my interview a couple of weeks ago with choreographer and artist-in-residence John Jasperse, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Liza Batkin '14, one of the student dancers that Jasperse is working with in creating a piece for Harvard Dance Program Winter Performance 2012. Discussing her prior dance background, views on Jasperse's work, and what rehearsals have been like, Batkin provided a fresh insight as a student into the creative process behind dance choreography.

Tell me about the work you’re doing with John Jasperse?

I rehearse with him every Thursday and Saturday that he’s here—Thursday night from 7-10, Saturday from 12-5, because he split up the piece into several groups of rehearsals. Each day I’m working on a different thing, with different people, different concepts. On Thursday nights we’ve been exploring a very slow, embodied way of moving—John teaches us material and we pick it up and try to develop it. He’s been working with concepts of ways of being in space, imposing on space, receiving the impact of something else, or occupying contained space. So the Thursday group is very much on the counter pole from imposition—it has more to do with reception and occupying these spaces. On Saturday, there are four of us, and that’s much more inter-body—one person imposes himself on another person, and that person has to respond. It’s working with bodies, sort of weaving the four of us together. That process is very satisfying because it begins very messy or uncomfortable, and as we rehearse you realize that something that was very awkward in the beginning now feels totally natural and organic. John is particularly receptive to us as dancers.

What is your dance background?

I grew up dancing as a child at studios in my town, and I’ve been to various dance intensives at the North Carolina School of the Arts and other programs. I transferred this year from Bard College, and there I was a double major in dance and literature—I was dancing a lot and choreographing a lot, and the structure of the Bard dance program is comprised of various residencies from guest artists from the city. Having John come in feels very comfortable and was exactly what I was looking for in a dance experience when I came to Harvard. When I was growing up, it was a lot of ballet and contemporary, and then at Bard it was very much in the modern direction.

Is John’s work something that seems very foreign to you, or is it more familiar because he works in the modern style?

When he talks and leads warm up, it feels pretty familiar to the other ways I have confronted dance at Bard. At Bard, we got to work with such a wide variety of artists working in this very contemporary N.Y.C. context, and John is very much of that style, but he’s also unique. When I auditioned for the piece, I immediately knew his work was something that I was interested in because he has a way of taking improvisation really seriously, but also recognizing the benefit of technique. He’s also wildly creative and has an incredible mind and patience, which is so valuable as a choreographer.

Do you have an idea of what your ultimate product will be like?

The weird thing is because the piece is splintered into these various rehearsal groups, none of us has any idea what the other groups are doing. I’ve never been in a piece where someone else is in the piece, and I haven’t seen that person since the audition. I really have no sense of what the entire piece is going to look like, and I don’t know that John really does at this point either. I’m getting a sense of how my rehearsal group’s pieces are coming together, and I’m excited to get back to working and excited to see where it will all go.

John Jasperse's dance piece and others choreographed by students Alex Willis '14 and Tsung-Yun Tzeng EXT '13 will be featured in the Harvard Dance Program Winter Performance 2012, Nov. 28-Dec. 1 at the Harvard Dance Center. Tickets are available at the Harvard Box Office.

[Caption: Dance Program Winter performances takes place Nov. 28-Dec. 1. PHOTO BY LIZA VOLL]