“I’m really into disruption.”
I knew the moment Jessica Jobaris said these words to me in a big-windowed café in Fremont on a bright winter day, I could trust her. And that once this critical relationship was established trust between the artist and the observer/participant (and in this case, interviewer) I could look openly into her experiences and therefore also into my own. I could learn from and be moved by her.
The urge to disrupt can be motivated by many instincts, some of them narcissistic (Sad!). But Jessica’s instinct is pure and paramount. “I want to create empathy in audiences,” she says, brushing a strawberry blond wisp of hair out of her face as we lean over our steaming tea in the filtered sunlight. “I want to disrupt at the moment that emotions start to get to their high note. I feel like you have to show the audience.”
Show them what?
Show them, it seems, the raw beating heart of grief. And this is another reason I trust Jessica because she trusts in grief, in its unwavering ability to change us, and in our capacity to recover from it.
“The only way to create empathy is not to emote, emote, emote. I want to get that tension and then bridle it somehow so the audience can come in with you,” she says of her goal behind A Great Hunger with the collaborative collective she directs, General Magic. In this sense, Jessica choreographs the viewer/participant into the heart of grief in order to see what’s beyond.
Jessica is no stranger to grief. Fifteen years ago her boyfriend died by suicide. Today, while embodying the success of a respected dancer and choreographer, she struggles like so many of us with the question, What am I doing here? “I’m 40. I don’t have kids, I don’t have all these things I actually want,” she says, her eyes like lakes holding my own despite the hazards of exposure and intimacy.
A thread in much of Jessica’s work has been exploring how we recover from our various griefs. A Great Hunger aims to tackle this existential question ritualistically. Think of Jessica, perhaps, as the High Priestess of Emotion Harnessing.
The show began several years ago as something called “The Living Room Practices,” where 12 artists gathered in a 600-square-foot apartment to talk and do scores. The meetings evolved into A Great Hunger, with nine main ensemble members who still meet in the same gathering to do somatic work, meditation, scores and exercises that rely on touch as a way to stimulate nervous system. Jessica calls the approach low skill, high sensitivity. “They study the body connection to the mind more than technical expertise,” she says of ensemble members.
By disrupting our attention from the faux realm of screens and our perpetual cultural loneliness, A Great Hunger re-engages our bodies with our minds. “All our stories are said to be in the muscles and the tissues,” says Jessica, who has been influenced by Felix Ruckert, Maria Scaroni, and her time studying in Berlin, New York and San Francisco. “Information is in the flesh.”
Creating solutions from physical touch “is really practical,” says Jessica, who is studying to teach expressive arts therapy. “This could heal the world.”
“There’s a hunger to have connection. Look at Facebook, the duping and the rhetoric. We’re always censoring ourselves. How can we get through this together how can we not be alone in our aloneness? There’s a little relief in that.”
When A Great Hunger began as a meeting in an apartment, Jessica had no way of knowing what turn the country would take in 2017 as the show debuted. At the center of the work, Jessica says, is rage: “The fear of loss of control, especially right now.”
While launching a show is a birth of sorts, for the artist it is also a death.
“Who will I be after this is over? I’m going to be hella depressed,” says Jessica, her California coming through. “But your life is your art. I do dances down the street on my way to the drugstore. I think I’ll survive the loss of the work if I can continue to stay present and tap into the creativity around me.”
“I feel hopeful. Even if I never choreograph again – I feel like I’ve made a contribution.”
The journey to tackle grief can both clear the horizon and also summon more sadness. Jessica is our guide into the heart of emotion and we must thank her and her collective for martyring themselves so we can, finally, feel.
This interview originally appeared at On the Boards.