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Jonah Bokaer and Daniel Arsham at Fabric Workshop

Choreographer and artist team for a work at Philadelphia's Fabric Workshop and Museum

Jonah Bokaer and Daniel Arsham at Fabric Workshop

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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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About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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