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    Banu Ogan, Rashaun Mitchell and Holly Farmer in Jonah Bokaer: The Invention of Minus One
    Photo by Quinn Batson
    Banu Ogan, Rashaun Mitchell and Holly Farmer

    An Army of Ideas

    Jonah Bokaer's The Invention of Minus One is dance opera


    Jonah Bokaer is taking the space between John Jasperse and Cunningham-with-juice and making it his own. Stark emptiness and intentional clutter, both visual and sonic, are elements that dancers negotiate and manipulate.

    Choreography by: Jonah Bokaer.
    Dancers: Jonah Bokaer, Holley Farmer, Rashaun Mitchell, Banu Ogan.
    Music by: Christian Marclay.
    Set design by: Omi Okamoto, Daniel Ruth, Kryssy Wright.
    Costumes by: Isaac Mizrahi.
    Lighting design by: Aaron Copp.
    Video Design: Michael Cole.
    Motion capture animation: Jonah Bokaer.
    Jonah Bokaer: The Invention of Minus One Abrons Arts Center March 12-16, 2008

    The solo "False Start" was a beautiful introduction to the much larger "The Invention of Minus One." Stark is the word to describe the opening of "False Start." A barebulb worklight stands at the center of the stage as Bokaer backsteps from far wall to stage edge. At and sometimes over the edge of the stage, he breaks into a flopping, folding surprise of movement. Further surprises come with lighting changes, the shock of sound that a folding metal gate creates after silence, and quick fluid movement that gets him upside down and twisted up. The first, and only multicolor, motion-capture film of the evening projects an eerie, patchwork-quilt, primary-colored version of a body doing most of what Bokaer will do immediately afterward onstage, while he lies inert just under the edge of the screen. Apart from and including the short film, this is a minimalist solo with maximum impact, continually unexpected.

    Jonah Bokaer: The Invention of Minus One
    Photo by Quinn Batson

    "The Invention of Minus One" is operatic in scope and scale, even on the small stage of Abrons Arts Center. In silence, a simple closeup monochrome video of two dancers' faces fills a large screen at the back of the stage and two small screens at the left and right of stage edge. As the film shifts to one dancer with a Polaroid camera, freezes on her face and breaks it into radiating multiples, the dance begins simply with three dancers standing together backstage left in front of two lit photo umbrellas, then walking purposefully into the stage to percolating musical sound. All the elements of the piece have thus been introduced, and the journey can begin. All the elements of the piece, though, are worth noting on their own. The video design of Michael Cole is both unobtrusive and mesmerizing, alternating between recorded video, live video and computer animations of bodies, cameras and bodies made from cameras. The dancers, Holley Farmer, Rashaun Mitchell and Banu Ogan, are all stellar current and former Merce Cunningham dancers. The set design by Omi Okamoto, Daniel Ruth and Kryssy Wright, especially the back wall/projection screen of contiguous photo umbrellas, is simple but very effective. Costumes by Isaac Mizrahi give just the right amount of understated grandeur. Lighting design by Aaron Copp is, with the video, unobtrusive but beautiful. And music and sound design by Christian Marclay is an impressive and integral part of the entire production, using silence, percolating musical segments and assaultive, crunchy noisescapes. Jonah Bokaer has assembled an army of ideas and made them work together. At the core, though, Bokaer has a choreographic style that stands on its own. Bold strides eating space, subtly stop/start posing movement, quirky partnering and unexpected use of unison and body positions make up some of his distinct repertoire.

    Jonah Bokaer: The Invention of Minus One
    Photo by Quinn Batson

    "The Invention of Minus One" has a wonderful feeling of continual evolution. Nothing onstage ever stays in one place for long, physically or otherwise. Dancers steadily and seamlessy pick up, move, put down and rearrange three cameras on tripods, three clothing rack/rolling dancer frames, coins, polaroid pictures and even each other. There are moments of calm and moments of punishing sensory overload, especially in a sustained section of almost too-loud audio noise. Partnerings and video closeups bring moments of intimacy, and stiffly still poses take intimacy away. The concept of photography runs throughout the piece as well, as a prop and as a used medium. An otherworldly section of two dancers in mostly darkness with LED flashlight-lit umbrellas is especially intriguing. Yet overall the piece has a kaleidoscopic and unified feel, and the structure is very well thought out.

    This was a really impressive evening of dance, and if the press kit — a bound book — is any indication, it is probably just the beginning of a really ambitious choreographic journey already well begun.

    MARCH 14, 2008

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