The British sculptor and installation artist Anthony McCall’s sculptural parallax of thirty-six, 300-watt incandescent bulbs is a site-specific installation for BAM’s new 250-seat Fisher building, made in conjunction with Jonah Bokaer, the thirty-something dance whiz kid. Bokaer was the youngest member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, and founder of Chez Bushwick, and his relation to McCall tiptoes around the famed collaborations between Isamu Noguchi and the Martha Graham Company, or Cunningham and Andy Warhol’s helium filled silver pillows. Those collaborations pivoted sculptural sets as integral parts of the choreography.
In Eclipse, the five dancers navigated through a “quadrilateral viewing space,” within swaths of variable light that changed every 14 seconds glowing to their liminal best. The variables of light were spare and ascetic. A dancer in white wearing a worker’s neon green vest with reflective stripes moved around the bulbs as the sound of a softly clicking film projector played in the background. The movement was slow and meditative. The lights went out in the bulbs, which then grew frosted. Shadow was suggested but not emphasized. Illuminations reflected off the dancers white clothes. The light from the bulbs, though not quite bright enough to blind, left pulsing after images on your retinas.
The only tension appeared in the break, as in potentially breaking the light bulbs. Anytime a dancer came close to a dust up with the thick hanging chords of pulsing live voltage, one’s heart quickened. Will they crash the glass? Will they get burned? Will they tear the installation down? Other times there was a dry, striated sensibility that despite Bokaer’s nubile choreography fell flat.
McCall is finding his performative sea legs with a piece like this where each ratcheting up or down of lumens raises or lowers the stakes. You can sense his mind abstracting space and light on the drawing board, but in a live performance it did not quite translate. The dancers Tal Adler-Arieli, CC Chang, Sara Procopio, and Adam H. Weinert precise movements often passed within a hair’s whisper of the bulbs without disturbing their somber gravitas. The piece is envisioned as a type of cinema, henceforth the clacking sound score of a threaded film machine interspersed between snippets of overhead train tracks and flight engines. Yet instead of cinema what it really translated into was a still frame with animation.
At various times secondary stage lighting became necessary. Occasionally a dancer slapped the floor with force since grasping a bulb with force would have turned catastrophic. Some of the dancers struck yoga poses. The effect on the audience was total immersed silence. When the dancers moved more energetically, the lights and the atmosphere in the room changed exponentially. Near the conclusion of the piece the stage lights were used to delineate sculptural space, forming triangles in the corners of a proscenium square. When the dancers on the floor swung their legs perilously close to the lights, the bulbs barely moved, a testament to their concentration and discipline. The dancers then began gazing at one another, and the piece became what it normally does in a dance performance, that of the human presence.
Eclipse by Jonah Bokaer and Anthony McCall, inauguration performance BAM Fisher, part of the Next Wave Festival, September 5–9.