Jonah Bokaer x Anthony McCall
September 8, 2012
by Leigh Witchel
copyright © 2012 by Leigh Witchel
It made sense that the cast of “ECLIPSE” wore reflective safety vests over their street clothes. They were metaphorically cutting the ribbon on the new, $50 million BAM Richard B. Fisher building.
“ECLIPSE,” Jonah Bokaer and Anthony McCall’s hour-long piece that inaugurated the space, had the kind of team you might assemble for construction. Bokaer choreographed and directed, British artist Anthony McCall created the installation – an environment of light and sound. Aaron Copp provided further lighting, David Grubbs did sound design. Though this was not a narrative piece there was a dramaturge, Youness Anzane.
The new space is located around the corner from the main opera house. The main performing space within the BAM Fisher is a new “black box” (though it’s blue) with flexible seating configuration. Bokaer opted for the audience to be on all four sides, as well as a small upstairs balcony.
The work, in several sections, began and ended with solos for Bokaer in white street clothing and a reflective vest. A mechanical whirr accompanied him. McCall’s installation, a tilted grid of 36 bulbs illuminating and extinguishing in a timed rhythm, moved in its own design. The bulbs took center stage or receded from attention in a dance of their own.
Bokaer almost interacted with them, kneeling near the lowest bulbs or placing a curved arm in sympathy with a higher one, yet somehow remained aloof. It was their space; he was the interloper. He sped up, racing from side to side; the speed acquired urgency.
A quartet of dancers – two men, (Adam H. Weinert and Tal Adler-Arieli) and two women (CC Chang and Sara Procopio) – also shared the space. Bokaer first shot to notice as the youngest member of Merce Cunningham’s company. There was a tacit acknowledgement within the structure of bracketing solos that he was the star, something he’d profess to loathe. Yet the others were not a backup band; they were all agile and coordinated in motion, from controlled legato to furious allegro. Each had a solo moment; each carried it handily. The movement owed to Merce Cunningham: complex, knotty, at times disjointed.
Each section was demarcated by darkness, often by silence. Bokaer led the outer sections, leaving the quartet to dance the body of the piece. He was methodical and mathematical in his construction. He more often set three dancers against one than two with two, and balanced slow movement against agitato.
The quartet stared up at McCall’s bulbs as if to take the measure of them. There was a sense of curiosity, frustration or even ineffectuality in their relationship with the mechanical environment – the bulbs, the sounds, the blue industrial flooring – that suggested “Modern Times” – if it had been choreographed by Samuel Beckett.
The sections grew more quick, intricate and forceful. The quartet lay down in a long line bisecting the space. Procopio twisted and knotted on the floor, then the quartet gathered facing one another, mute with uncertainty in a corner. They looked upwards, then broke apart and traced pathways round all the bulbs.
Bokaer reentered in a rush, just stopping short of thwacking himself on the forehead with a bulb. The others moved each to a corner as Bokaer’s closing solo built from his opening. He seemed to acknowledge the space more: cupping the bulbs, but also falling down beneath them and walking as he punched the air.
Throughout, the bulbs glowed in their tight and independent choreography. They were the ones that closed the work by plunging the space to darkness; not Bokaer, even though he was still spinning towards the center.
Like Cunningham, Bokaer flirts with emotion rather than yielding to it. Midway through the work, at the square’s center, the two men danced together quietly. It was barely a dance, just poses and torsion, one holding the other’s hands or feet. The duet was intimate yet neutral – or perhaps sterile.
After several minutes, Procopio joined in to create a trio, yet with no more emotional heat. A later section brought Adler-Arieli and Procopio together more physically. They yanked and braced one another, but with the same coolness. The emotions of the work were in the colors of the movement and the meticulous structural build – and its interest lay there as well. Like the state-of-the-art theater, it was beautifully constructed.
Bokaer is one of the more positive current stories of artistic leverage. He was cultivated early and had an enviously charmed career first with Cunningham, then choreographing for Robert Wilson as well as his own projects, which draw legendary performers such as Valda Setterfield. Yet he’s worked throughout to be a better artist.
As driven and ambitious as Bokaer is, he is not a lone wolf – the mad dreamer building a tower solo. His dreams are collaborative: “ECLIPSE” is built out of a new space, a team of artists, 36 light bulbs, and mystery.
copyright © 2012 by Leigh Witchel
Photos by Stephanie Berger
Top: Jonah Bokaer in “ECLIPSE”
Bottom: L to R, Adam H. Weinert, Tal Adler-Arieli, CC Chang and Sara Procopio in “ECLIPSE.”