Dance Is Not Forever, and He’ll Prove it
Jonah Bokaer brings a bold new work to Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
One year ago, visual artist Daniel Arsham proposed a set design for choreographer Jonah Bokaer’s new work CURTAIN: “The stage design will be composed of a non-Newtonian substance that I have developed over the last year,” Arsham wrote. “It is a material that has properties of both a solid and of a liquid. It defies the laws of Newtonian physics. This material will be used to construct architectural forms of various scales that will transform into an amorphous form. Structures will dissolve as the dance is occurring.”
Without hesitation, Jonah Bokaer started a dance.
Running tonight through Sunday at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in the Berkshires, CURTAIN is the real deal of cross-disciplinary exchange. Without a hierarchy determining which element would be created first, the piece emerged from the simultaneous evolution of images, music, and movement. The result is a non-narrative exploration of the transitory nature of dance. On every level, it reminds us that dance happens once and is gone forever.
Both based in New York, Bokaer and Arsham have a long-standing creative alliance. “Daniel Arsham and I are professionally, artistically united by the wish to advance ideas about the moving body in the built domain of performance architecture, onstage, and in gallery spaces,” Bokaer says. However, it wasn’t until they began work in a large studio in Hudson, NY that the message of CURTAIN became clear. “I realized [it] is about the dissolution of theatrical traditions that divide stage design from movement design,” Bokaer explains. “The body is presented as an element of design, and the design is presented as a moving entity.”
Bokaer has also worked on the piece with fashion designer Richard Chai and songwriter Chris Garneau. Garneau composed an original score at rehearsals, and his work even references the history of Jacob’s Pillow: He incorporates sound from a 1984 lecture that John Cage gave to students there, which he accessed through Norton Owen, the Director of Preservation and guardian of the extensive Jacob’s Pillow Archives.
In his first design for stage, Richard Chai mirrors Bokaer’s movement concepts. His costumes are made of delicate parachute silk that cannot endure the daily steaming, washing, and pressing of normal fabric, mirroring the fragility and changeability of Arsham’s set.
Bokaer is a regular of Jacob’s Pillow. Like many other dance protagonists, he attended its school, performed on its stages, and returns again with his own company. Having presented hundreds of revolutionary movers since its first public performance in 1933, Jacob’s Pillow is no stranger to big thinking amongst a community of artists. Each summer the Pillow presents 10 weeks of hand-picked work from international dance companies. CURTAIN performs in week seven of the festival, with three weeks and six companies still to come.
For the dance world, the Pillow often represents a pilgrimage instead of just another engagement. In his second consecutive summer, Bokaer calls it a “unique treasure for this country’s legacy of dance and choreography.” It is a place of creative freedom, and as Bokaer says of himself and Daniel Arsham, “we like to play.”
Emeri Fetzer is the Online Managing Editor of DancePulp.com, a website about professional dance and dancers
Photo by Pascal Gely/SACD