Jonah Bokaer and Anthony McCall

New York

at BAM Fisher


As a collaboration, Jonah Bokaer and Anthony McCall’s performance Eclipse registered closer to ships-in-the-night than Gesamtkunstwerk. This doesn’t mean the piece wasn’t engrossing, but dance (Bokaer) and art (McCall) engaged each other with a good deal of independence. Eclipse, which was the first work to be presented in the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s new black-box theater, comprised a light installation and costumes by McCall, with choreography and overall direction by Bokaer.

Much of McCall’s work, in which light is sculpted into planes, cones and lines, has been set in darkened galleries. Visitors move through the light, becoming participants in shaping the art. In Brooklyn, by contrast, 36 hanging lightbulbs were arranged in a diagonal grid that extended from near the floor to high above it. The bulbs, giving off an orange glow, dimmed and brightened in varying patterns throughout the 60-minute performance. The dancers did not interact with the light as McCall’s gallery visitors usually do; instead they maneuvered around the bulbs, which remained discrete objects.

The dance consisted of four sections, beginning with a solo by Bokaer. Four additional dancers gradually appeared, then took over the next two sections, with Bokaer returning only toward the end of the piece. The lack of correlation between the shifting patterns of light and dance may well have been intentional. Merce Cunningham, with whom Bokaer danced, made a philosophical point of maintaining the independence of collaborators within his pieces. Yet Cunningham worked repeatedly over years with many of the same artists (primarily Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg), allowing dance and art to emerge from a common understanding that facilitated a sense of the totality of the work. Complicating matters, the primary lighting on stage came not from McCall’s installation but from Aaron Copp’s lighting design, which involved circular and square spotlights trained on the dancers.

Eclipse was perhaps conceived to treat light and bodies as concrete entities, rather than contrasting the body with the evanescent quality of light, as McCall does in his gallery shows. Heightening this earth-bound sensibility, McCall dressed the dancers in white and gray pants and shirts, with gray socks. At times the performers also wore the kind of Day-Glo colored vests that are part of street and underground workers’ attire, conjuring references to subways, trains and highways. Such allusions were enhanced not only by the stark lightbulbs, but by David Grubbs’s score, which evoked everything from the roaring of trains to the rhythmic whirring of motion picture projectors. In this environment, the dancers went their own way, cool and contained.

Photo: View of the dance performance Eclipse, 2012, a collaboration between Jonah Bokaer and Anthony McCall; at BAM Fisher.