Jonah Bokaer and Daniel Arsham at Fabric Workshop

Merilyn Jackson, For The Inquirer

Posted: Thursday, December 13, 2012, 3:01 AM

Choreography begins with the circle. Choreography literally means "dance-writing" from the Greek words for "circular dance" and "writing." For his new work, Occupant, choreographer Jonah Bokaer is researching the etymology of the word and using it to graphically call our attention to its origins.

For the piece, artist Daniel Arsham has created 25 exact replicas of cameras in a plaster/chalk substance that will fill the 40-by-80-foot space of the seventh floor of the Fabric Workshop and Museum. This will be part of a three-floor Arsham installation that opens Friday.

Bokaer, 30, has seen his star rising since he became the youngest dancer recruited into the Cunningham Dance Company in 2000. It doesn't look as if it's going to fall anytime soon. Neither does Arsham's; his Reach Ruin plaster and fiberglass installations will be on view through mid-March.

This marks the sixth collaboration between the two young but seasoned international artists and is a world premiere staged for Philadelphia audiences. Their commissions include Replica, at the New Museum in New York, Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno in Valencia, Spain, and the Hellenic Festival in Athens; Recess, which premiered at the Jacobs Pillow Dance Festival in 2011; and Curtain, which premiered at Le Festival d'Avignon in France in July. Arsham's latest solo exhibition at Galerie Perrotin in Paris is on view through Dec. 22, and Commemorative Marker, for Miami's new Florida Marlins ballpark, opened in April. Drift, the entrance pavilion for Design Miami 2012, just opened.

Arsham spoke from Miami before leaving to oversee the installation of the Philadelphia project.

"On the first floor as you walk in," he said, "you'll see the concept [of the fiberglass sculptures]. Imagine a sheet caught in the wind. But when you see it from the back, it's a [freestanding] drapery without a body - hollow. Those are constructed originally of fabric, fiberglass and resin. The works interact with the architecture."

"For the stage, I'm looking for things that look solid but can disintegrate. Merce [Cunningham] always told me dance is ephemeral." So there's an ephemeral quality to his stage designs. "But when I work on my installations, I want them to be more permanent, more solid."

Bokaer has authored 30 choreographies, 10 videos, three motion capture works. He spoke from New York while working on Occupant.

"The choreography," he said, "enacts a series of drawings on the floor, and so the accumulative circles are left in the space after the performance."

The dancers - Laura Gutierrez, Catherine Miller, Irena Misirli, and Sara Procopio - will use the plaster cameras to draw the circles and then break out of them. As they draw, the cameras will begin to disintegrate.

Bokaer says the signature of his work is lighting. "Before our stage work, there will be 30 hours of lighting work," he said. "We're keeping the visual media very spare and the sound system minimal. We created a light-blue film that covers the fluorescent light so when you're walking into the space, it reinforces the photography theme."

The sound design usually comes last. "We are still working on sound bits of Rod Modell's Echospace and other music," Bokaer said, "to complete the circle."

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