Choreographer Comfort makes right moves with 'Asphalt'

by David Jain | 1/8/02 6:00am

Jane Comfort is not your standard choreographer and director. Her work typifies the eclectic style of dance and performance that has recently taken the arts community by storm.

Comfort's unique style utilizes motion, light and song, with her story told through the eyes of the spoken word and dance.

Through a special series of performances and discussions at the Hopkins Center this winter, Jane Comfort and Company has brought a little touch of the real world and dance into the snow-covered streets of quintessential Hanover, NH.

Jane Comfort and Company's latest production, "Asphalt," has won much acclaim from the critics and theatergoers of New York.

A close and detailed look into the hardships faced by the people of the inner city, "Asphalt" ties together a wide array of musical and theatrical genres.

Originally intended to portray the concurrence of dance, motion and word, Comfort's production grows into an all-encompassing theatrical piece, combining elements of dance, lighting, thematic structure and music.

Initially commissioned through the Doris Duke Awards for New Works, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, "Asphalt" made its debut nearly six months ago at Duke University.

A showcase of Comfort's innovative choreography, the piece incorporates the spoken words of artist Carl Hancock Rux, as well as a vocal score by composer Toshi Reagon and musical scores from DJ Spooky.

While "Asphalt" has still not made its official New York debut, the work of Jane Comfort had been recognized the world over for its ingenuity and utmost creativity. In 1998, she received the BESSIE award for her original piece"Underground River."

Comfort has also choreographed a number of Broadway musicals and plays, including Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Tony award-winning musical "Passion."

Her production staff and cast have performed for acclaimed audiences in both Europe and the United States for a number of years and continue to shed new light on the ever-changing performance world through their creative and unique style of presentation and dance.

"Asphalt" delves into the struggles faced by a homeless disc jockey in New York City.

As Racine (Manchild) searches for a place to sleep, he finds himself drawn to the guide Couchette (Aleta Hayes). She takes him on a self-journey, a search for who he really is and an eye opening look into his own identity.

As the audience strides along Racine's quest for self-realization, one cannot help but piece together the unique underpinnings of Comfort's work. Scene by scene, the content and theme remain the same, while the style and genre rapidly shift from one ideal to another.

In one scene, the characters are seen in a nightclub, dancing to the rhythmic beats of New York. By the next set, the glaring disco lights fade into the solemn and haunting hues of silence and discomfort. As Racine emerges from the light, one can see the confusion and uncertainty that encompasses his being.

Over the course of nearly 18 months, the underlying messages in "Asphalt" were transcribed from a series of imaginative ideas into an analytical and emotional piece of visual work.

The choreography and music of the play are unlike those found in a typical piece.

Rather than focusing around a central thematic element, the play encompasses a variety of musical and dance forms, everything from rap and pop, to cultural traditions.

The music and movements of "Asphalt" speak for themselves, taking the audience on a mysterious ride through a world that one could ever encounter.