The Arthropologist

The body as an instrument: Ayman Harper dances home to blow (theLid off DiverseWorks

The body as an instrument: Ayman Harper dances home to blow (theLid off DiverseWorks

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Ayman Harper's (theLID with live music by Matmos Photo by Tomi Paasonen
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Ayman Harper's (theLID Photo by Tomi Paasonen
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A scene from (theLID by Ayman Harper Photo by Tomi Paasonen
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Ayman Harper's (theLID Photo by Tomi Paasonen
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(theLID Photo by Tomi Paasonen
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It's always exciting when one of our own lands on the world map, even more exciting when they return to perform. Such is the case with Ayman Harper, a Clear Lake native, who is back to perform (theLid at DiverseWorks on Friday and Saturday night. Jermaine Spivey of Kidd Pivot and percussion ensemble Matmos join Harper for the show.

The work was commissioned by DiverseWorks with Kunstlerhaus Mousonturm, Hebbel am Ufer and The Forsythe Company.

Harper has a dance resume to envy, with stints at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC), Netherlands Dance Theater II (NDT II), Frankfurt Ballet and The Forsythe Company. He has made work for NDT II, HSDC and Houston's own Dominic Walsh Dance Theater (DWDT). I first saw Harper's work at DWDT and thought, wow, he's one to watch.

But sadly, moving to Berlin, his current base, wasn't in the cards for me.

 "You often hear dancers saying that their body is their instrument and this time it truly was."

As for (theLid, don't let the dance's cryptic title throw you off.

"You never know what will emerge once you pop that top," Harper quips. "Jars, boxes and lids are used to contain, compartmentalize and often to keep its contents fresh. It seemed especially appropriate for this collaboration, as Matmos brings every day objects to life."

Down the road, Harper may name his operation (theLid.

Matmos consists of M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel, and frequently others. They are known for their atmospheric electronica using samplers, analogue keyboards, field recordings and guitars. Connecting with the legendary Matmos proved a happy accident. Harper liked to improvise to Matmos' music, and the piece he choreographed for Netherlands Dance Theatre II was set to their For Felix (And All the Rats).

After missing their show in Berlin, a short post-show conversation led to a promise to do something in the future.

"I wrote them that I would like to come to their show, and they said better yet, come dance in our show, which I  did," Harper says.

The improv jam went so well that they decided to do a proper collaboration, which eventually evolved into (theLid. The choreographer remembers the experience well.

"Everyone was in their allotted space playing their instruments, and there I was in the corner, playing my body," Harper recalls. "You often hear dancers saying that their body is their instrument and this time it truly was. Although there was no amplification of my movement, I danced so rhythmically that you could almost hear my movements."

Known for his slippery finesse as a dancer, Harper is a charismatic performer. He possesses a fluid quality, polished but with a raw, almost dangerous edge. Joining him is the equally dynamic Spivey, who amazed me last summer at Pillow during Kidd Pivot's performance of Crystal Pite's Dark Matters.

Harper first spied Spivey at a NDT audition in Holland.

"He was wearing a florescent red unitard and couldn't be missed," Harper remembers. "He was fierce. As the years went by, I was fortunate enough to be one of many graced by his presence on stage. Now we are working together.

"Isn't life grand?"

​Dancing On the Edge

Tomi Paasonen designed the sets and costumes. The Finnish-born, now Berlin-based designer, creates work for KUNST-STOFF in San Francisco and Public Artistic Affairs in Europe. Paasonen constructed the sets and costumes from things lying around during the creative process.

"We talked about this multi-functionality, where the set could become a costume and a sound maker," Harper says. "It all comes back to this idea that we take an object from its normal intended use, and offer it in a new light, bringing it to life through movement, sound and good humor." 

As for the actual show, much of it will be made on the spot. Harper is a seasoned pro when it comes to not knowing what comes next. "The entire performance is essentially a structured improvisation," he says. "It's the nature of the beast. And the nature of the artists I'm working with."

Harper mostly resides in Berlin, but plans more Houston time in his future.

"It depends on the good old locals and if they will have me," he says. "I spend about three months a year here, and look forward to becoming a more active in Houston's performing arts community."

Take a look inside (theLID.