When the Brooklyn Academy of Music opened its new Richard B. Fisher Building earlier this month, guests at the première performance were greeted by a floating plane of light. The glowing grid, composed of thirty-six bare bulbs hung precisely from the darkened ceiling above, was the artist Anthony McCall’s visual design for choreographer Jonah Bokaer‘s latest work, “Eclipse,” which, in addition to inaugurating the Fisher Building, also marked the opening of the thirtieth edition of BAM’s celebrated wide-ranging Next Wave Festival. It was additionally, in a pleasant bit of serendipity, Bokaer’s thirtieth work as a choreographer. “It just crept up on us,” he laughs, “and it’s been interesting to arrive at this series of occasions.”
The opening of a major new performance space dedicated to new work is, of course, more than just an occasion—in a time of economic uncertainty, it’s a promise on BAM’s part that the arts will not be left behind. Bokaer, a former performer with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company who has been choreographing for a decade now, is in many ways the perfect artist to christen the Fisher Building, a performer and creator who is well-known for his collaborations and who has spent much of his own time and effort building nurturing spaces for his fellow creatives. He is also young, talented, and—most importantly—without question a representative of the next wave.
For “Eclipse,” Bokaer asked the light artist and former filmmaker Anthony McCall to design the set installation, which the former often uses as a launching point for his own choreography. Bokaer’s pieces are, at heart, dance works, but he is sure to never let his own creations overwhelm those of his collaborators. He was drawn to McCall’s luminous (literally) work for its “choreographic nature,” he says. “Oftentimes his projections draw in space, or move in space and change.” There was also, of course, the momentousness of the occasion to consider, with its multiple anniversaries. “I also think he’s an artist who is capable of a commemorative statement and making meaningful gestures in space,” he continues. “I think he’s responded to the Fisher Building with a very elegant design concept.”
The torqued square of light that McCall and Bokaer finally decided upon is just one component of what the pair have decided to call “exploded cinema.” The sound design, by David Grubbs, is meant to complement this idea perfectly. “The sound is largely of a sixteen-millimeter film projector running and actually projecting right behind the heads of the public,” Bokaer explains, “so it’s almost like the public is being asked to project onto the bodies that are moving.” The dance itself, a quartet accompanied by a solo for Bokaer at beginning and end, is both soft and strong, with slow, definite movements interspersed with striking stable positions in a vocabulary that recalls the rigorously detailed manner of Cunningham’s own work. Clad in untucked shirts and reflective safety vests, the dancers move gracefully and assuredly through the four-sided performance area, illuminated and defined by the lights glowing above them. The idea of cinematic composition runs throughout: As Bokaer explains, “We’ve been approaching this almost as a four-sided film in which close-up and long-shot start to take on a whole other complexity.”
“Eclipse,” a strong example of Bokaer’s talents as a choreographer, also has the advantageous side effect of demonstrating the malleability of the Fisher’s performance space. At an early tech rehearsal over Labor Day weekend, the seats were just being installed and the A/V system was being prepared for its first run-through. The years to come will see other performers alter the stage in innovative and unique ways, but for many, there will always remain the memory of that glowing inaugural performance. And Bokaer himself recognizes the import of the occasion and the historic moment he and McCall have created. “Instead of just a dance, or a dance-art intersection, we’ve really worked together to give meaning to this site and to perform it here,” he says. “We’re not even certain that it will be performed elsewhere, to be honest.”
Photography by Benjamin Nicholas.