It was a long tough week slugging through kids, work, the schedule, and the 5ams to the 10 pms, the emotional ups and downs and getting ready for a house guest. I was a little stressed out and frazzled but being the dance junkie I am, I had a performance to look forward to. Saturday night I made it out again to one of my favorite Theaters in town, The Ferst. This time to Jonah Bokaer the recipient of this year’s ARTech Residency at Georgia Tech. It has been a long time since I’ve seen someone new and fresh and I was really looking forward to it. I also did something I’ve never done before, I took my mother. There have been many times where she has seen me perform, but I don’t think we have ever sat in the audience together. I have to say she was a good sport to leave her grandchildren behind and accompany me.
The evening started out the moment we arrived at The Ferst. In the side galleries there was video footage playing on the walls. One was of dancers in a tent lit from the inside, another looked like a computer generated cardboard cutout of a dancer linked to other cutouts rotating around and around. The last image was a couple of moving animated figures. This was nice foreshadowing for what was to come. As we entered the house the curtain was up and the stage was bathed in blue light. There was also a gold platform set up in the center surrounded by little winter trees. Yes, my friends, trees. Needless to say, I was excited and the tone was set.
Jonah Bokaer is a young choreographer out of NYC, with a very extensive pedigree. He attended Cornell Univ. and got his degree from the N.C. School of the Arts. At a very young age he was recruited for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. With his long arms and legs and his perfectly arched feet I would have guessed this without looking at the program. He has the quintessential Cunningham physique. He went on to get a visual media degree from the New School and studied media and performance at Parsons School of Design. He also dabbles with digital media and 3-D animation on his own. He has worked with the likes of John Jaspers, David Gordon, Robert Wilson and many more. Now at the ripe age of 25ish he is touring his choreography internationally.
Before the show began we got a little tutorial from the choreographer and were told that we could interact with the performance. “Please Turn ON your phones!” was announced at the beginning which is contrary to what one usually hears. Music technology master’s students Stephen Garrett, Anosh Daruwalla and Nathan Weitzner, under the direction of Professor Jason Freeman, developed an iPhone app called MASS MOBILE. As audience members we could download the application and light up the trees and control colors on the set. I do not have an iPhone but my seat neighbor kindly let me see his. It was a pretty cool feature.
The concert consisted of two pieces. The first one was the US premier of FILTER. Four dancers in union suits, two in navy and two in white, slowly, liquidly moved throughout the space. The movement was very Cunningham-like with a release edge to it. Subtle and quiet, I felt I was watching four campers sleep walking through a snowy forest. This strong image was a constant for me throughout the piece. There was a nice moment when three dancers lifted one in navy over their heads like a log. At this point I noticed he was the only one in long sleeves, a detail which would be significant later.
Another element to this piece I thought was really smart was the way Bokaer used the platform to cut the space. I like a choreographer who is willing to define the performance area in different ways. Obviously, it lay on the floor and dancers were on top and around it. It was tilted up and a duet of mirrored images occurred in front, like a man having a conversation with his own shadow, as the other duet hid behind. It was used as a balance board, and it tilted as one dancer fell and was supported by another. At this point, the platform was attached to ropes held by the other dancers, like a sleigh during Christmastime. My favorite moment in the whole show was a stunning floor solo. The choreography was refreshingly faster here. Wiggly and sharp the dancer reminded me of a worm squirming after a rain storm, or a camper having a disturbing dream. The curtain dropped behind him after he settled into a comfortable fetal position. He laid there for an awkwardly long time.
The next time we see the performance space, the gold platform was suspended from the ceiling at table height, revealing another raised area upstage. It took this audience member a minute to realize that there was live music coming from this area, and the dancer with the long sleeves was the musician. The other dancers were now able to go under the plank and use it like a table. The three gentlemen move gesturally with their upper bodies, like architects looking over blueprints. The forth dancer in his new role as singer, emitted eerie notes as he walked forward. They all rolled off the stage into the pit to sleep for another uncomfortable amount of time. I do love it when work extends past the parameters of the stage. The piece moved on at the same pace until the end, past a section with no set but smoke lingering in the air. The audience could interact and light up the smoke in different colors from their iPhones.
REPLICA was the last dance of the evening. We were greeted with a giant block with crushed sides as though it had been hit with a hammer or body parts. This cube was a vehicle for many things, one of which was a surface to project images on. Retrograde was a choreographic manipulation used a lot in this piece. Video was played backwards, phrases were done backwards, but it was subtle not obvious which seems to be a strong element in Bokaer’s work. All the great ideas and high production were amazing, but they did overshadow the fact that there were two beautiful dancers on stage, one of which being Bokaer himself and the lovely CC Chang. On the videos we saw the dancers emerging from or submerging into the box. We also got to witness jagged holes being produced live on the prop by a third party. This image added and interesting topography for the stage.
The evening was thought-provoking, it was chalk full of genius ideas, but it wasn’t for the average theater goer. Jonah Bokaer is an artist who tiptoes the perforated line between dance and performance art. I respect trailblazers and inventors, artists who are willing to make an audience feel uncomfortable and awkward, but I felt a smidge beat up. The concert was very slowly paced and long. It clocked out at two-and-a-half hours for just two pieces, which is indicative of a protégé of Merce Cunningham, but I felt it needed some editing. Having said this, Bokaer has accomplished so much at such a young age, and I’m so happy to have seen this work. So many brilliant images and ideas stayed with me and reverberated in my mind. I am looking forward to the future work of this emerging choreographer.
The Movement In Stillness – “First Breath” by Travis Magee
“First Breath”, a new exhibition of photography by Travis Magee
The Frieda and Roy Furman Gallery
Film Society of Lincoln Center
There are these moments among skilled choreography and seasoned performances where you lose yourself. If you happen to be experiencing this, you will most probably hear a gasp or a groan. There is no language adequate to tell the tale later because they affect you in a primal, visceral way. These moments transcend language and are too intimate to describe. To those of you who don’t frequent the many exquisite dance events happening around the world today… this is the reason to see dance live! The bitter sweet dichotomy can perpetuate a frustration, that the experiences can’t REALLY be translated to anyone who wasn’t at the dance performances, sharing the adventure. These feelings lead to the question, “How do we bottle this?”
Dearly Departures: “A Long Way… A Longer Distance Call”
The Lucky Penny has become a cornerstone of Atlanta’s cutting edge dance and technology. Dearly Departures: A new dance by Blake Beckham and her impeccable motley crew of technicians and performers, at Georgia Tech’s DramaTech Theater, have created yet another night of artistic excellence
The little black box theatre, more of a trapezoidal space is reminiscent of the old train stations lined with a long illuminated bench Stage Left, an “Old Skool” telephone booth Stage Right and a Split Flap display board hanging above. The experience begins with a Rolodex scrolling sound as the Split Flap illustrates very slow, movie style, credits. This sets a mellow tone, allowing the audience to hunker down in our seats and get comfortable. The lights dim then flicker off, in a “cool” and unusual manner, foreshadowing the unexpected and poetic experience to come.
The clickety clack of the display is overtaken by ambient music and lights go up on dancer Alisa Mitten. She smoothly makes her way around with long relaxed movements, allowing her fingertips to initiate her locomotion. As we watch, the Split Flap is feeding us contemplative ideas to ponder as the action unfolds.
“Away… Way back… Go… Go… Go back.” And a repeated mantra of “Begin again” & “Begin & End.”
T. Lang: A Woman Searching
The raw space at the Goat Farm is set up with four see through scrims hanging from the ceiling, situated in a square, to separate the performers from the audience. Seats are arranged in the round, meaning all the way “a round” where the action was about to take place. The first question of the evening is to figure out which side of the room we want to experience this evening from. Obviously, there is no right or wrong… just questions.
On June 7th, I found myself asking a lot of questions at the World premiere of T. Lang Dance Company’s performance of Post Up. The cast of nine extraordinary women were uniformly exposed in white bras and cherry red leggings. The uniformity brought to mind a complex woman or many women in a similar situation, perhaps battered or in a prison. An inquiry later enhanced by zig-zagged projections on the fabric we were looking through. The tastefully sparse costumes highlighted the performers’ beauty and I was reminded of how majestic women are, in all iterations, with different curves, hair lengths, textures and hues of skin.
The tone in this screened in cage was desperate, sad and played with themes of struggle and vulnerability but through it all a feminine strength became apparent. Not only through the athleticism of these prodigious artistic athletes but in an instinctual comradery that naturally exists between woman, especially at times of crisis.
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