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Decoration of War

Art, wrote Marcel Broodthaers, “hangs on our bourgeois walls as a sign of power.” The Belgian conceptualist also understood that art was just another consumable item, part of a world “devoted to advertisements, overproduction, and horoscopes.” So in 1964 he gave up his career as a poet and turned to the task of making something that might resist co-optation. To wake up a passive audience, he dug deeply into philosophical issues surrounding the culture of display, most notably in museums, and through an eccentric body of work relentlessly pursued those questions until his death in 1976.

His self-styled mandate was not as idealistic as it sounds—Broodthaers also said he hoped to profit from his art (he didn’t)—and the poetry never disappeared completely. He was a quiet crusader who trafficked not in bombast but in wordplay. Inspired by René Magritte (he’d met the Surrealist in Brussels as a teenager) and Marcel Duchamp, he has been described as their artistic heir. In recent years, Broodthaers has himself become something of a muse to a number of young artists. But there’s more to his diverse output—which includes films, installations, photographs, and even a fictitious museum in his apartment—than a catalog of influences.

If his 1975 installation Décor: A Conquest, now on view at Michael Werner, seems familiar, it’s probably not because you’ve seen it before (this is its New York debut and first appearance anywhere since 1999). The artist’s methods—art made through selection rather than creation; a focus on contextual specificity, to name just two—are now common enough to be taken for granted. But the depth and sophistication of Broodthaers’s ideas about the often-buried interplay between brutality, art, and culture has been harder to duplicate.

This two-part work, originally presented as the inaugural show at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London in 1975, was conceived as one of the artist’s Décors—large-scale exhibitions-within-exhibitions that riffed on museological conventions through displays of accumulated objects. In the spirit of Duchamp, he asked the show’s curator to begin selecting items for him, and the two became partners in an ad hoc exercise of hunting and gathering. One room of the installation, which represents the 19th century, is furnished with pairs of red velvet chairs, silver candelabra, and “Waterloo-style” cannons, as well as a huge, truly menacing stuffed python and a small grove of potted palm trees, all set on squares of artificial grass. This faux salon/saloon also features barrels of ale and gin and a tabletop card game played by a plastic crab and lobster. A single pistol rests on a low platform near the entrance. Theatrical lights illuminate the scenario and underscore the artificiality of this dead-silent “historical” tableau.

The second, 20th-century room is a sparser, more efficient version of what came before. A hundred years later, it’s clear that any delusions of bourgeois grandeur have been traded for modern convenience and better guns. Rows of automatic rifles are lined up along the tops of display cases that hold numerous handguns and instructions on how to use them. In the center of the room is a set of patio furniture with a blue-and-white-striped umbrella and matching fringed cushions. A spare umbrella rests in one corner, and on the table, a jigsaw puzzle depicting the Battle of Waterloo is nearly complete. Like the overabundance of weapons, the banality is meant to be oppressive.

Was it because of the guns that a security guard closely monitored me the entire time I was there? I asked, and it turns out the guns are all fakes. Like most of the elements here, they were borrowed from a movie prop house for the ICA show (for this version, the gallery was able to get many of the original items back). In fact, all of this was a film set (which is what décor means in French) for The Battle of Waterloo, which Broodthaers made during the course of the 1975 show. The film alternates between shots inside the museum, a parade of royal guardsman in their iconic red and black outside its walls, and scenes of an actress working on the jigsaw puzzle. The Battle of Waterloo (which White Columns will screen at Anthology Film Archives on September 4, along with other films by the artist) and Décor: A Conquest are not incidental to one another, each serving to reference the other and to reinforce the multiple symbolic associations (between film and installation, decoration and art, viewer and void, and warfare with everything else) of what would be Broodthaers’s last major project.

In the end, the work delivers the victory promised by its title, although there’s no clear winner in this battle between art and violence. You can’t, the artist seems to say, have one without the other. I’d wager the real victor is Broodthaers, who claims the gallery as his territory and, with it, the viewer: He won’t let you forget that you can’t keep war out of the living room.

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Fully Stacked

Marshall Stack, with its earsplitting name, classic-rock jukebox, and giant photo of Pete Townshend behind the bar, is a sort of homage to the world’s boy-men still talking about having once played Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” perfectly in the 12th grade. But that’s OK, because this spot’s wholehearted vibe provides a refreshing low-key break from the nearby Ludlow Street zoo. Staying true to the city’s restriction on fun, the New York State Liquor Authority limits the bar’s drink list to beer and wine, due to the establishment’s proximity to a church. That works fine for penny-pinchers, with their blue-collar brews like Carling Black Label ($2) and Schaefer ($2). Drafts get a little more exotic with the Italian pilsner Peroni ($6) and Belgium’s famously potent Delirium Tremens ($8), charmingly named after the medical term for alcohol-withdrawal tremors. The food menu is also part grown-up and part broke-college-student, with items like English-muffin pizzas ($5) and grilled asparagus, goat cheese, and truffle oil sandwiches ($9). And for the dork in all of us, there’s the smirkishly named blue balls—grapes covered with blue cheese and candied nuts. Or for maximum dorkitude, stop by Thursday nights for the comic-book swap sponsored by St. Mark’s Comics at 7 p.m.

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‘Congo: White King, Red Rubber, Black Death’

From 1885 until a year before his 1909 death, Belgium’s King Leopold II ruled the Congo Free State as his personal fiefdom, enslaving the region’s inhabitants for the mass production of rubber. The BBC-produced documentary Congo: White King, Red Rubber, Black Death recounts the history of this brutal arrangement, which led to the deaths of unknown millions of Congolese. A formal hodgepodge, Congo suffers from abrasive voice-over narration, stilted re-enactments, and an awkward courtroom conceit, but gets by on its shocking material—Belgian atrocities cataloged here include the cutting off of workers’ hands and the taking of family members as hostages. Director Peter Bate coolly juxtaposes these accounts of human misery with views of opulent present-day Brussels (where statues of Leopold still stand), protesting against the erasure of history (the film has been denounced by the current Belgian government). As for the Congolese, they continue to die: Some 4 million have perished since 1996 in the country’s civil wars.

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Two New Compilations Document a São Paulo Scene You Never Knew Existed

Post-punk’s seam has gotten severely depleted these last few years. So it makes sense that genre-mining bands and arcana-excavating archivists are now moving into the non-Anglophone world. The smart hipster money would surely have been on Germany as the next gold-rush zone, or maybe Belgium and Holland. Few would have imagined Brazil as a contender. But that’s precisely what’s happened, with the bizarrely synchronized arrival of two compilations documenting São Paulo’s post-punk scene.

It’s tempting to imagine a cargo cult scenario: a handful of Liliput and Flying Lizards import singles arriving to catalyze a mutant subculture, the local bands filling in the huge aesthetic gaps using their imaginations. But given that São Paulo, for all its subtropical location, resembles a European city somehow drifted loose from continental moorings, it’s far more likely the megalopolis’s hip youth were just totally plugged into every last thing going down in Ladbroke Grove and downtown New York City.

Não Wave kicks off with Agenttss’ “Agenttss.” Released in 1982, it’s a historic single not just for its mélange of then modish but still-thrilling elements (flanged guitar, synth bloops) but for being Brazil’s very own Spiral Scratch—a pioneering example of release-it-yourself autonomy. Throughout both compilations, foreign influences are obvious, but seldom to a slavish degree. Akira S & As Garotas Que Erraram alternately resemble Birthday Party crossed with Martha & the Muffins and a tropicalized Joy Division, balmy and sweat stippled rather than cold as the grave. Sexual Life includes a fetching pair from Fellini—one flinty drone rock, the other garage punk gone languid in the humidity. Inevitably, what captivates the Anglo-American ear is the exotic Brazilian tinge that creeps in every so often, whether intentional or not, as with Chance’s sultry “Samba do Morro” and Black Future’s “Eu Sou o Rio,” whose bassline doesn’t so much walk disco-style as sashay carnival-style. Approaching the end of its 1982-88 time span, Não Wave sags somewhat. And Sexual Life is occasionally marred by outbreaks of “quirky.” But overall, language difference notwithstanding, you can easily imagine most of these tracks getting playlisted by John Peel or working the dancefloor at Hurrah’s.

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Death-Defying Dance and Dancers Baptize Montclair’s New House

Belgium’s Ultima Vez stole into New Jersey with the year-old, two-hour Blush, created by Wim Vandekeybus and his international gang of totally committed performers, to an original score by David Eugene Edwards of 16 Horsepower and Woven Hand. They crashed through a projection screen made of hundreds of white strips, spilled into the audience to flirt and vomit, fornicated onstage, and cast a spell that perfectly captured the zeitgeist of the young generation. A tall, lusty blonde woman, presumably dead, stalked the stage bewailing the life she’d lost while her compatriots undressed and dressed (possibly for her funeral) and leaped and rolled and shinnied up poles and threw themselves at each other and the floor. Film of dolphins, frogs, cornfields, and hordes of nude bodies, by Vandekeybus, Lieven Van Baelen, and Jan Dellaert, amplified the juicy chaos onstage. Powerful, strange: too far away, and too soon gone.

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Film

Suspected of murdering the transgender hooker population of Brussels, Bo (Robinson Stévenin in a superb performance), a pre-op transsexual, chooses to act as suspicious as possible by breaking into apartments, accosting neighbors, and courting the local hustler. Although director Girod hints at Bo’s peril as a possible victim, the character’s employment in a noble profession (she waits tables at a drag bar) establishes that she is never really endangered. Still, Girod contrives a stream of scenes in which men tromp Bo for her sexual advances. After multiple explanatory scenes to clarify the obvious, Bo’s lacerated face and broken limb are her paltry compensation for helping solve the crimes. Transfixed ultimately fails in the same way as William Friedkin’s Cruising: Despite honorable intentions, it may have an unintended appeal for bigots.

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Werewolves of Norway

Ulver are not your grandfather’s lycanthropic rock band. They are something much more complex and . . . well, let them explain it, as they do so eloquently in the notes to their Metamorphosis EP from 1999: “Ulver is obviously not a black metal band and does not wish to be stigmatized as such. We acknowledge the relation of part I & III of the Trilogie (Bergtatt & Nattens Madrigal) to this culture, but stress that these endeavours were written as stepping stones rather than conclusions. We are proud of our former instincts, but wish to liken our association with said genre to that of the snake with Eve. An incentive to further frolic only. If this discourages you in any way, please have the courtesy to refrain from voicing superficial remarks regarding our music and/or personae. We are as unknown to you as we always were.”

1997’s Nattens Madrigal (or The Madrigal of the Night: Eight Hymnes to the Wolf in Man) was a savage lo-fi/bedroom/demo-quality slab of Norwegian hell-metal so intense that even Anthony Jr. of the Sopranos had a poster of its cover on his wall. (In their notes, Ulver don’t mention part two of their hallowed trilogy, Kveldsfanger, because it was obviously an all-acoustic set devoted to haunting choral-like vocal works and classical-style guitar and strings. Kind of like a Nonesuch ancient music sampler, but with Norwegian substituted for Latin and werewolves for Jesus.) So what was the devotee of the blasphemous blast-beat and worshiper in the house of the unholy that is black metal to think when he or she picked up Metamorphosis and played it in his or her tomb? The titles look promising. Even if the cover art is suspiciously futuristic. “Of Wolves and Vibrancy” and “Of Wolves and Withdrawal” sound about right. (Did I mention yet that “ulver” means “wolves”?) Until you put it on and find out it’s a techno album. And not just techno, but arty techno that could come from, ick, Belgium or something. Maybe those shitty-sounding, demo-craving, by-the-time-you’ve-put-an-album-out-on-an-actual-label-you’re-already-dead metal purists had been scared off by Ulver’s previous release Themes From William Blake’s the Marriage of Heaven and Hell and never even got as far as Metamorphosis. It’s been a while, and I’m still trying to figure out what Themes is. You could file it under spoken word, electronica, metal, pop, or art songs, and be right every time. It’s Ulverific!

A sporadic frozen stream of releases put out by head Wolfman Garm (a/k/a Kristoffer Garm Rygg, a/k/a Trickster G. Rex) on his Jester label has seen Ulver grow ever more minimal in their electro chill-out pursuits. Little and/or no vocals, repeating pulses, whispers, and washes of warm drone-tones reveal that at heart the wild canine is a shy and lonely beast. (Garm still gets his rock on from time to time, though. Check out his work with Norse prog-metal supergroup Arcturus on last year’s The Sham Mirrors. Boy, do those guys have fun! Are ya ready Steinar? Uh-huh. Hellhammer? Yeah. Knut? OK. All right fellas, let’s gooooo!!! On second thought, if you do check them out, don’t sue me. They are insanity par excellence. Out-there art-metal riffs played alongside what sounds like Ramsey Lewis banging away on “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Futurama touches and power-metal flourishes just can’t hide the circus-carousel keyboards doing an imitation of Rick Wakeman doing an imitation of the intro to Elton John’s “Love Lies Bleeding.” Nor can they hide Garm, credited with “voices of ghosts and monkeys,” and his best capital-M-metal falsetto that may elicit an initial response of “Owww! Hey Lady!! Make the nice man stop with the singing and the screeching and the hurting . . . ” And that’s all before Ihsahn from Emperor adds his stately growl, and before the 10-minute closer that will have you tearing your hair out, clearing the room, and making your cat puke. It’s not even heavy. Just relentless and madcap. You feel as if you are being chased by ghosts, monkeys, and wolves. The lyrics say it all: “Police, police, police/please stop the euro/from binar bin Laden/IO paramount pan/IO paradox pan.” (God, I love that album.)

Ulver’s latest, Lyckantropen Themes, a soundtrack for a short film about, well, I’ll let you use your imagination, is truly a culmination and perfection of the techniques used on their previous album, Perdition City, and its companion EPs. (Be on the lookout for two new releases this year as well—including a remix album where Merzbow, Kid 606, and Third Eye Foundation make weird music even weirder.) An almost imperceptible forward motion and layering of sound reaches, if not heights, then a wholeness of intent where every element fits seamlessly into the next for the entire length of the disc. Instead of the white noise of their inception, Ulver now cover you with a white blanket of no-two-are-alike snowflakes and microchips. That is, if microchips were white. Some may cry “Wyndham Hill!” or “colonic irrigation waiting-room music!” upon hearing Lyckantropen Themes. And I say: whatever. Maybe my isoflavones need realigning. Plus, I know how long this wolf has run, and how much farther he has to go.

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We Hear and eBay

Nobody likes a middleman. I don’t mean a yenta or a middle reliever, but a middleman: somebody who slides in between a buyer and seller out of some supposed necessity, and turns a dime doing it.

Much of e-commerce’s thrillette (and a lot of its legal flux) involves the net’s capacity for cutting out the middleman. Buy a song from the label and cut out Tower; hell, buy it from the artist and cut out the label, too. It’s streamlined, sensible, and oughta be a nickel cheaper. That should make all the difference, and, after all, money talks.

Money actually has only one thing to say, in the sexiest voice ever invented. Money winks and whispers and swears it makes it easier for you to get things. That’s a lie. Money is an intermediary between you and things, an extra step you have to pass through. Money itself is a middleman.

Which brings us to eBay. Most eBaywatchers talk about the auction site as a guilty pleasure (“I know it’s stupid, but I found the darlingest faux-fur car coat for $11!”), a few as a genuine boon (“I made my rent selling my furniture!”); the rest of us look away in blank uninterest. That’s a mistake. We should hate eBay.

The technology and scope that allow eBay to operate ought to do something a little more dramatic than marginally extend everybody’s capacity to buy and sell shit. Am I supposed to feel good about that, ever, even if someone’s aunt just found a lovely French pocket watch she’d always wanted? If eBay’s so damn good at cutting out middlemen, shouldn’t it be able to outmaneuver money’s seduction altogether?

Money was invented, basically, to move value through space and time. It’s a way to exchange your Florida oranges for Belgian chocolate, or your winter wheat for summer squash. People used to barter such things directly, and in some places they still do. But let’s be practical: The world got complicated. You can’t magically blink over to Brussels or to next summer, so you agree to let money slide between you and and your corresponding trader. Maybe you take the money from your wheat and buy auto repairs. Maybe the Belgian buys himself a book of poems. The world moves along.

Meanwhile money, like every other middleman in history, charges you a little fee. It charges you to buy checks and use ATMs. It charges you for letting time pass while prices rise. Change currencies and money charges you. Money takes a cut of your paycheck to salary the paymasters and accountants. It does more insidious things, like hang out in huge mobs of money with names like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, dictating third world social policies. It’s evil, it’s annoying, it makes you carry a wallet. But it’s necessary, right, because you can’t barter anymore. Without money, your oranges rot in their crates.

That’s where eBay should come in. A vast, connected network of Wants and Haves provides the foundation for a barter economy. All you need then is some way to build complicated, dynamic chains: This week Ignatz wants to trade oranges for car repair, but his mechanic Imogene wants a faux-fur pocket watch. So you need a system that can efficiently arrange for Ignatz to trade oranges to the chocolate guy, who sends chocolate off to the poet with a sweet tooth, who delivers a poem to the curio dealer, who just happens to have a faux-fur pocket watch.

That system exists already—the flight-booking software used by travel agents could handle it. As an anarchist friend says, “Big collectives always fail because there are too many meetings. But the Net could essentially become the meeting.” And still we use it for the most dull, incremental steps in the wrong direction—to extend capital’s creeping banalities a centimeter further into our lives. And pretend it’s kicky and liberating. Swell.

As charming as Luddite types are, there’s little evidence that technological advances ever roll backward. So it seems like the good folk rediscovering the joys of kicking up shit in the streets of Seattle and the malls of D.C. might also want to turn their thoughts to the Web, and to imagining how big tech can rethink big issues. In the meantime, the men in the middle keep purring, cozily cradled between you and the fruits of your labors.

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Soldiers’ Stories

“What does the world of work demand? Just this: a place in society.” Not a slogan from the barricades of May ’68 in Paris, but from Liège, in 1960. That year, this city in southern Belgium was a flashpoint in a general strike that paralyzed the nation, as workers and government forces clashed in warlike confrontations.


Liège is the home of Jean-Pierre Dardenne; his brother Luc lives in Brussels, about an hour away. For the past 25 years they’ve made the industrial region around the Meuse River, where they were born, the focus of cinematic investigations-first in documentaries about its social history and, more recently, in two extraordinary features, La Promesse (1997) and Rosetta (opening November 5), which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes International Film Festival this year. A straight line runs from their earliest work to their latest, for the strikers’ demands from some 40 years ago remain largely unanswered; in Rosetta the same needs fuel the heroine’s frantic, obstinate search for work.


“Employment today is like a game of musical chairs,” says Jean-Pierre Dardenne. “There are seven chairs, and eight people. When the music stops, the person who can’t find a seat is eliminated. So it is with work. The only way to find a job is to take someone else’s. So when Rosetta sets out to look for work, it’s as if she’s going off to war. For her it’s a matter of life or death. She thinks that if she doesn’t find a place in society, she’ll die, she’ll simply cease to exist.”


The Dardenne brothers grew up in Seraing, a working-class town where daily life revolved around the sirens of steel mills and coal mines. “Our school was next to a factory,” Jean-Pierre, who is 48, remembers. “When the wind would blow in a certain direction, the courtyard would fill with red smoke from the steel furnaces, and we’d have to stop playing soccer, because we couldn’t see. So that ambience was something we breathed in, literally.”


In the early ’70s, Luc earned a degree in philosophy, while Jean-Pierre studied acting in Brussels. “I used to bring Jean-Pierre his laundry at school on Saturdays,” the younger brother, now 45, recalls. “His professor, the French director Armand Gatti, worked a lot with nonprofessionals. One day, he said I could join them.”


Inspired by Gatti’s experiments with video, the brothers worked for three months in a cement factory to earn money for a camera and sound equipment, which they quickly put to work in the service of a social vision. “We’d shoot strikes, and show the footage at union meetings,” Jean-Pierre says. “Or we’d go into low-income housing projects and videotape people who’d done something with their lives, who’d been active in the Resistance or the labor movement. On Sundays, we’d find a place in the projects, a garage or an apartment, and we’d show the tapes. We were trying to create links between people through video.”


In the late 1970s, they produced the first of a dozen documentaries for Belgian television. “We said to ourselves, things happened in this country that nobody talks about,” Jean-Pierre recalls. “There had been a Resistance movement against the Nazi occupation-nobody talked about it,” Luc continues. “There had been a huge strike in 1960-same thing. We were motivated by the idea that we had to transmit this history to our generation. Well, with La Promesse and Rosetta, we said, enough of memory-we’re going to take the people of today, and the things of the present.”


The bustling city of their childhood has changed. The steel mills stand empty and rusting; the coal mines are exhausted; downtown has been abandoned to recent immigrants and the people who exploit them. That landscape-a moral universe in disorder-is the setting of La Promesse, in which a young boy is forced to choose between his father, a ruthless black marketeer who traffics in immigrant labor, and his first inklings of conscience.


Rosetta’s geography is as tightly calculated as a battlefield. “We thought of it as a war film,” Jean-Pierre explains. “The town is the front where she battles for a job. Then there’s a kind of no-man’s-land, where the bus lets her off. And when she crosses the highway, and goes through the forest, she enters the trailer park, the rear camp, where she eats, sleeps, and tends to the wounded.” The latter includes her mother, a phantom figure with badly dyed hair, who prefers to drown her pride in alcohol.


“There are 10,000 people living in campsites in Belgium,” Luc explains, “who’ve lost their homes, and can’t get into low-income housing. It’s the last step before homelessness.”


Yet Rosetta transcends mere sociology. For Emilie Dequenne, it’s a story about what it means to be human. “At the beginning, Rosetta is a very absolute, die-hard kind of person,” says the actress. “She wants to break in and find her place in the fortress that is the world. She’s so obsessed with that idea that she becomes a fortress herself. And one day, she realizes that she can no longer be alone. At that point, she becomes a human being.”


In Dequenne’s visceral performance (for which she shared the prize for Best Actress at Cannes), Rosetta’s character is revealed through repeated, unexplained gestures-like pulling on a pair of rubber boots-that are as tense and ritualized as a warrior’s. The boots are meant to protect her from the mud that covers the campsite and, like her mother’s despair, threatens to engulf her.


From its handheld camera-work to its refusal to provide psychological interpretation, the film’s storytelling is as naked and direct as Rosetta’s fight for survival. “Rosellini called it ‘the dry eye’-not too much pathos,” Luc says, citing as reference points the Italian master’s Germany Year Zero as well as Bresson’s simplicity and the arid emotional terrain of Howard Hawks’s Scarface.


This lean, taut style is also a product of a lifelong conversation. “With age, we need to explain much less-so many things are simply understood between us. Like an old couple,” Luc says.


“Of course, as with old couples,” Jean-Pierre adds with a laugh, “sometimes things end in murder.”

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International Male

At 35, John Jasperse may be the prodigal son of the American dance family. After graduating from Sarah Lawrence College and performing with Lisa Kraus for two years, he left for Brussels in 1988 to dance with Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s Rosas, commuting home to work with Jennifer Monson. Now based in New York, he’s a savvy international success. His meticulously detailed, intellectual dances haunt and mesmerize viewers. His newest production, Madison as I imagine it, premiered in Utrecht, the Netherlands, April 16; it opens at Dance Theater Workshop May 6, and plays Houston’s Diverse Works in the fall.


“My work situates itself somewhere between American postmodern dance and a tradition of European dance theater,” explains the lanky, soft-spoken artist. His 1995 Excessories, which exploits dancers’ sexual attributes in a dainty, deadpan way, received international acclaim and financial support: $7768.89 at the 1996 Rencontres Internationales Chorégraphiques de la Seine-Saint-Denis (a/k/a the Bagnolet), the $9982.50 choreography prize at the 1997 Suzanne Dellal International Dance Competition in Tel Aviv, and the 1997 Mouson award from Frankfurt, worth $17,295. Even so, he says, “We were hoping to have a fall tour, but it fell apart; the dollar was high, which made us more expensive. We’re not receiving large amounts of state subsidy, so we have to meet costs with performance fees in a way that many companies of our size in Europe don’t.”


In his impeccably decorated Westbeth studio, he converses frankly about the realities choreographers face when operating internationally. He’s shown his work in Mexico and across Europe, has been invited to Japan, has a commission at the American Dance Festival this summer, and another from Israel’s Batsheva. “There is a sense of people seeking the new look. ‘Who is the hot young thing?’ This natural mechanism is a functional part of the presenters’ job. They try to identify artists emblematic of a particular movement. People in Europe have grabbed onto my work because it isn’t as formal as others; it poses certain kinds of questions, and still has qualities familiar to Europe, so there’s a doorway in.”


Jasperse has mixed feelings about his decision to work in New York. Had he remained in Brussels after leaving Rosas in 1989, he’d have had an easier time financially, but, he says, “Other parts of life need focus and attention, and those parts of myself are more easily connected into a New York environment than, say, a small city in Germany.”


The economic situation in Europe—specifically France—leans in Jasperse’s favor now. “For midsized companies doing relatively experimental work, the economy is much more vibrant. Presenters who used to do large-scale projects can no longer afford to do that, and have switched to [less expensive troupes].”


In the U.S., box-office success is a primary concern. Producers attempt to develop audiences by focusing on community interaction and ethnic diversity; Jasperse is a white guy, “and in the climate where there are very limited resources, it is much more difficult for someone doing the work I’m doing.” These decisions, he thinks, filter down through the funding structure.


French artists, he observes, wouldn’t conceive of working without financial support. “They have never done that. I think they’re having a really difficult time because the bottom layer has been decimated in the interest of maintaining the choreographic centers.” Funds are diminished now in France, but in the U.S., “the economic situation is fucked up… Young choreographers work for essentially nothing.” The motivation of young American artists, not the money, holds the dance community here together; in Europe, when the funding is ripped out from under them, choreographers are more likely to quit.


“I’m a very small piece of a very large picture,” says Jasperse. “I can try to make work that has honesty and integrity and hopefully will be evocative to audiences. That’s all I can do.”


Madison as I imagine it attempts to shed light on circumstances that may otherwise seem impossible. Jasperse’s choreographic scenario in the piece may reveal larger, real-life concerns. When two of his dancers find themselves entangled in a mess of string and buckets, he comes to their rescue with a pair of scissors and a pocketful of pennies.