REVIEW: Jonah Bokaer’s ECLIPSE at BAM
Editor’s note: DancePulp would like to welcome Rick Herron, guest contributor and contemporary arts curator. We are thrilled to have him in the ongoing conversation of dance.
The heat having finally broken, New Yorkers are back in town, getting down to business and starting a new season. New York Fashion Week has already offered us a peak at next spring, Apple is breaking records again with the release of the new iPhone, and the Presidential election has taken off in a sprint to November.
It’s this cultural landscape, amidst so much forecasting and anticipation that New York choreographer Jonah Bokaer and noted English light sculptor Anthony McCall opened the BAM Next Wave Festival’s 30th season with an evening length work Eclipse September 5-9 in the brand new (and still smelling of just laid carpet) BAM Fisher. Eclipse isn’t a speculative look into a crystal ball, however. McCall and Bokaer tell us something about present, and naturally our future, by looking straight back.
The hour long piece can be read as a skeuomorphic elegy for the obsolete. Eclipse acknowledges our difficulties letting go, even as the life cycle of our gadgets shortens. The machines and tools we use shape our experience of the world; how we see it, how we express ourselves, certainly how we remember. It is artists who give shape and meaning to the anxieties that exist in the place between man and the man made. New York has seen two separate exhibitions about the aesthetic qualities of VHS tapes this year alone.
“Eclipse” acknowledges our difficulties letting go, even as the life cycle of our gadgets shortens. The machines and tools we use shape our experience of the world; how we see it, how we express ourselves, certainly how we remember. It is artists who give shape and meaning to the anxieties that exist in the place between man and the man made.
Eclipse, featuring solo turns by Mr. Bokaer and group sections for four dancers, is driven by a tilted grid of what appear to be simple incandescents hanging from the ceiling. As individual bulbs turn on and off, dancers embrace then rescind them, beginning the audience’s constant effort to decode and decrypt several layers of light and movement made of signs, and symbols that articulate a language that seems familiar but stubbornly resists translation. But the lights are not merely the soon-to-be-phased-out incandescent bulbs that Edison gave us; they only appear to be. Nor is Eclipse performed as an old film projector whirs steadily on in the balcony, but rather, to the digital sound of one. Sections of movement are divided by the sound of an ersatz train or propellor driven airplane.
Given the immense popularity of high tech yet old timey emulators like Instagram, the interest of Eclipse in technologic masquerade feels very of our time. Throughout the piece, the faces of all five dancers remain not just neutral, but robotic. Their gaze, even in rare face to face moments, never seems to land. Bodies touch, but humans don’t connect. Arms and legs slowly stretch and twist into the shapes of letters and numbers that you can’t quite make out. Dancers pair up to pose as awkwardly arranged statuary. Bokaer’s choreography, inspired by the continuously changing pattern of lights that McCall describes as a score, alludes to everything from construction workers to Kazuo Ohno, botched Tai Chi forms to air traffic hand signals by way of a Madonna video.
McCall oversaw the concept for the costuming as well as the staging, and also nods toward both the formal and the pedestrian. Over simple grey pants and white shirts, a few dancers wore a minimalist take on a neon yellow safety vest. Indeed, Bokaer and McCall seem to be hard at work as layers of the true but askew pile up. Eclipse then, with limbs outstretched and akimbo, is a struggle to find balance between the literal and the inscrutable, the obvious and the unknowable, and perhaps most of all, the now and the new. The work’s title suggests that the deck is stacked against today for tomorrow.