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Jody Sperling/Time Lapse Dance: “Book of Clouds”

Old-fashioned in the sense of being dated, this dance program relied too much on the work of an early 20th century modern dance pioneer.

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Choreographer-dancer Jody Sperling in a scene from “Book of Clouds” (Photo credit: Steven Soblick)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

I have often used the term old-fashioned as a compliment for artistic presentations that were homage to and reminiscent of quality art from previous generations.

This is not the case with Jody Sperling’s Book of Clouds created with Amy-Claire Huestis (visual artist) and Omar Zubair (composer).  It is old-fashioned in the sense that it is dated, unoriginal and reminiscent of college dance department presentation of the forties and fifties.

The ostensible theme of Sperling’s series of performances at the Baryshnikov Arts Center was climate change.  Had spectators not read that in the program they would have come away from Sperling’s performance thinking it was an ode to spring with some cosmic overtones in Huestis’ colorful slide projections of circular forms that evoked the earth, the moon, Mars, stars, subtle earth formations and, of course, clouds.

Pretentiously titled “Book of Clouds: Durational Iteration” (one section of a four-day presentation), the multimedia work, unfolding in a series of short sections, was danced in front of that slide show watched by Ms. Sperling and Jenny Campbell who variously lay on the ground or performed simple runs, walks and turning movements.

The highlight of the dance were impersonations of early dance pioneer Loie Fuller by the two dancers appearing in floor-length white garments within which they spun, making the silky material move in lovely waving patterns.  (There are films of Fuller imitators and Fuller, herself, on YouTube.)

Choreographer-dancer Jody Sperling in a scene from “Book of Clouds” (Photo credit: Steven Soblick)

I hadn’t read Sperling’s program bio which proclaims her a Fuller expert, so this  homage came as a surprise, pleasant at first, but increasingly grating as it was repeated at least four times will little variation during the fifty-minute work, showing a lack of imagination and an unwillingness—or creative inability—to bring Fuller’s groundbreaking work into the 21st century.

There are many ways to honor an inspirational figure’s art, but simple imitation, inserted into a work where it illuminates nothing, isn’t the way.  It shows a dearth of imagination.  In any case, the subpar dance technique did not do Fuller any favors, either.

The manual changing of the slides in this age of computerized control boards, might have been considered quaint had it not been so clunky and time consuming.  To simulate quicksilver changes of light on the Loie Fuller drag, a disk with slides around its edges was spun quickly.  Sperling’s hopelessly amateurish imitation of her idol, who was art nouveau personified, could never hope to provide anything more than a bare idea of Fuller’s art.  (Fuller was also responsible for introducing Isadora Duncan to Europe.)

Zubair’s music was charming and it, with Huestis’ pretty slides, were the best elements of Book of Clouds.

Sperling and her performance partner, Jenny Campbell, were not just dancing in a major, culturally sophisticated city, but in a building named after a dance master, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and in a studio theater named after two 20th century artistic legends, John Cage and Merce Cunningham, providing standards Sperling could not live up to.

Jody Sperling/Time Lapse Dance: Book of Clouds (June 7-10, 2017)

Baryshnikov Arts Center, 450 West 37th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 800-838-3006 or visit

Running time: 50 minutes with no intermission

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (414 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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