Monday, September 10, 2012

Eclipse: Seeing The Light, Not Feeling It

Jonah Bokaer (pictured) collaborates with Anthony McCall in Eclipse. Photo by Stephanie Berger.

BAM’s Richard B. Fisher building kicks off its inaugural season with Eclipse, a collaborative performance and installation by visual artist Anthony McCall and choreographer Jonah Bokaer.  The theater, the Fishman Space, features varied seating arrangements and $20 tickets. A welcome addition to the New York performing arts scene, the Fishman Space is a well-appointed auditorium with good sight lines and comfortable seats that promises to be a fine space for art-makers of all stripes.

Bokaer seems like an auspicious artist to capture the possibilities of the Fisher Space. A former dancer with Merce Cunningham, he has accrued multiple awards for an artistic portfolio, which runs the gamut from traditional dance works to cutting-edge, motion-capture pieces. Eclipse opens with a personal solo for Bokaer. He effortlessly navigates McCall’s obstacle course of three-dozen, dangling light bulbs utilizing spoked limbs, brisk traveling phrases, and precipitous body tips.  Although he never touches the bulbs, they burst into brightness after Bokaer performs arcane, gestural machinations near them. It’s beautiful.

One, two, three, and finally four performers glide into the dance area, a square with a floor of felted carpet. Sporting white button-down dress shirts with workaday slacks and black socks, the dancers, preoccupied and absorbed with something beyond the audience’s ken, wander and wend their way through the bulbs as white noise buzzes. Unexpectedly, the lights die as the rumbles of automotive machines permeate the auditorium. When several of the bulbs relight, Bokaer has vanished. The performers, one man and two women, perform movements that may remind you of liquefied martial arts, while the remaining man, the spirited Tal Adler-Arieli, ups the intensity with a critical vehemence.

It’s unfortunate that after such a strong start, it’s rinse, repeat for the next forty minutes. The piece follows a circular logic. After each blackout, the torch of fervent dancing passes to a new individual while the others stride, stare, casually pose, and occasionally connect with each other. Long after your attention has started to wander, Bokaer returns and snuffs out the lights, indicating the ending. The best section highlights the lustrous Sara Procopio. Lying on the floor, she and her three companions, engage in a hypnotic movement phrase that surrenders to gravity’s pull. Only Procopio subverts it.

Eclipse entertains in the beginning. The interplay between lights, shadows, and shade stimulate the imagination while the dancers, spines so straight that they appear to be standing upright even when bent over, offer committed performances never lagging in energy or focus. 

Problems originate with Bokaer’s choreographic choices. He creates upper body motions that emphasize gestural innovation but gives the legs little to do. Feet seem stuck shoulder-width apart. While limbs may occasionally flick to the side or pull in tightly, Bokaer prefers the placement of a standard walking pace. Due to the vertical nature of the lights juxtaposed against the dancers’ unswerving backbones, the banality becomes apparent.

But the choreography isn’t the reason why you will leave unsatisfied.  It’s because you will not be invited to follow the dancers’ complex, emotional journey.  Although a dramaturge is listed in the program credits, ostensibly to coax meaningful performances from the cast, emotions never outshine the bulbs. You feel like you are looking through a window at someone's story.  It’s a deep and important one. But it’s for them. Not you.

This review refers to the performance seen on Sunday, September 9th.

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