John Jasperse Leads the Dance Program at Sarah Lawrence

Jasperse observes a rehearsal at Baryshnikov Arts Center. Photo by Janelle Jones, courtesy of Sarah Lawrence College

John Jasperse has been a prominent player in many corners of the dance world for nearly 30 years. As a performer, he danced with Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's Rosas. As a choreographer, he has presented his work at major venues across the globe with his company John Jasperse Projects. As an innovator, he co-founded Center for Performance Research, a rehearsal and performance space in Brooklyn. This fall, he adds one more role to his resumé: director of the dance program at his alma mater, Sarah Lawrence College, in Bronxville, New York.


Why were you interested in academia at this stage of your career? Teaching in a broad sense is something that I've been doing for a very long time. I'm thinking about my connection to a broader community and the way I can have impact. This feels like a natural extension of that.

Beyond your alumni connection, why Sarah Lawrence? Interdepartmentally there's a spirit of collaboration. The faculty long ago voted against faculty ranks. I'm not interested in hierarchical structures, but people I can collaborate with.

I'm going to be working with dancers who will go professional and others who won't. That's also interesting to me, because I want to bring a rigorous practice to students who may not stay professionally active. Helping people understand why dance is valuable is exciting, and, frankly, something the field needs.

What are your plans for the first year, and beyond? I'm not going to come in with a hatchet. There's a certain amount of living inside the curriculum and seeing what that means. We've talked about having my dancers rehearse at Sarah Lawrence, and having students come to dress rehearsals; I think the program can benefit from having the connection back into the field. I'll co-teach dancemaking for seniors and graduate students, and I'll teach a graduate seminar that's a creative laboratory, kind of an advanced comp. Eventually, collaborations across disciplines is something that I'm looking at: how we can keep connecting dance to other ideas.

Sara Rudner has led the department for almost 20 years. Does that put pressure on you? Whether it's been Bessie [Schönberg] or Viola [Faber] or Sara, three incredibly strong, visionary women have done amazing things with the department and very different things. There's a huge amount of responsibility, but Sara has been incredibly supportive. We come from different portions of the same community, but we're very different artists.

What do you feel dance training at large is lacking? Critical thinking is something that we need more than ever. You can teach a technique class with structural information about how the body works, or you can teach them steps. Somatic information is deeply important, so that anatomy doesn't sit in the right corner and technique in the left. Same with dancemaking. How does artwork sit inside social culture, and how does that shape society? I'm not pushing movement practice to the side, but I'm calling it movement practice instead of technique for a reason.

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