Tag Archives: Jonah Bokaer

Power to the People

The cast of Theatre Under The Stars' VOTE! A New Musical playing at the Hobby Center September 16-17, 2011. Photo by: Claire McAdams Photography

Update:  Houston is still voting crazed. Take Vote!, a new Theatre Under the Stars musical, penned by two Rice Alum and staring local performers goes down this weekend.  Jane Weiner of Hope Stone has her own voting frenzy going on with a Pepsi Refresh Project for her kid’s program . She wants your vote.

The story did arouse some wise feedback from Catastrophic Theatre artistic director Jason Nodler, who had some good points.  Do we really want the audience  driving programming? There are better ways to get them engaged.  I tried to concentrate on people using a voting process in more innovative ways,  yet Nodler’s worries are founded. We could easily go a little American Idol crazy.  Next up at Catastrophic is Mickle Maher’s There is a Happiness that Morning is, running Sept. 23-Oct. 23 at Catastrophic’s offices on 1540 Sul Ross.

Oh, and guess who got elected at BalletMet? Houston Ballet chief Stanton Welch was selected through the BalleMet onDemand program. His piece Return, set to music by Benedetto Marcello opens on Sept. 23.

Jane Comfort and Company in Beauty; photo Christopher Duggan

Reprinted from Culturemap.

“The people have the power,” screamed Patti Smith in her now iconic song from Dream of Life. It’s official. Art lovers don’t want to just plop in row “J” like a lump anymore. Selecting our seats, where to eat and whether or not to valet park just doesn’t cut it these days. The era of the passive viewer is winding down. First, the audience wanted a party, now they want some authority.

To be specific, they want a vote.

Simon Cowell may have come and gone (to The X Factor), but theAmerican Idol template is everywhere, from Houston Grand Opera’sConcert of Arias to Opera Vista’s Competition/Festival. Most ballet competitions have audience choice awards, which dancers cherish. It means something to have the audience speak up. The performing arts have gone contest happy. All good for the most part and way better than draining your brain on shame-based reality TV shows.The performing arts have gone contest happy. All good for the most part and way better than draining your brain on shame-based reality TV shows.

Let’s look at some innovations that go beyond the Idol format. Apparently, it’s not just the vote that matters but contact with the people you are voting for, as in the artists.

There are tons of fundraisers that get folks engaged through a voting process. Gift of Gift of (GOGO) is the love child of a contest and crowd fundingThe idea is for new collectors to have a chance to support emerging photographers while sipping a martini. Yes, there’s a party. Always a party. Write that part down. It’s a crucial step in leaving lumpland. The ticket price of the party gives you three votes.

GOGO held an open call for entries for photographers to submit work. The vote and party night goes down on August 20 at Spacetaker. The artists come to chat up their work and vie for your votes. The cash haul from the party tickets helps the group purchase the top-voted photographs, which are then gifted to a museum, in this case it’s theMuseum of Fine Arts, Houston. GOGO plans to expand to other museums across the country.

Earlier this spring, the team from Black Hole, Poison Girl and Antidotethrew a $20-a-head SuperNova party where they listened to impassioned pitches from four Montrose non-profits: Tara Kelly from the Mandell Park Association on an idea for a video podcast tour of the park, Lindsay Burleson from BooTown Theater on a bloody puppet show on ice, Maureen McNamara from the Wilson Montessori PTO on a natural play space for Spark Park and Ryan Perry on a mobile astronomy lab.

Even the losers are winners in that they have potentially reached a few new folks. The Spark Park won the pool of $640 but runner-up Emily Hynds of Bootown reports, “It was a blast.” Partygoers feasted on soup, beer and bread.

“Ideally, I’d like to see these happen at other places in other areas of the city. I’d love for it to be known as something we do in Houston, that neighborhoods get together and make these kinds of decisions together,” says Scott Repass, an owner of Black Hole. “It could have a real impact on how we feel about our city and our neighborhoods.”

I like the mix of arts, science and community projects.

News_Nancy_Voting_Filter

David Rafaël Botana, left, and James McGinn in Jonah Bokaer's "Filter. Photo by Anna Lee Campbell "

It’s not always about getting money, sometimes it’s an aesthetic choice. If you liked the lighting in Jonah Bokaer’s newest work, Filter, you can thank the audience, they voted for it in a smartphone app called Mass Mobile. When Bokaer arrived at Ferst Center at Geogia Tech he knew he wanted to develop some form of audience interaction. When Stephen Garrett, a graduate student at Georgia Tech Music Technology Program came forward with his idea of creating a special app, Bokaer was thrilled.

Known for his meticulous dances, Bokaer was fully ready to let go of the lighting. Audiences chose between four options and the timing of each choice. Bokaer was amazed at how well it all worked out. Several trial runs and the fact that he worked closely with his lighting designer, Aaron Copp, helped with that outcome.  University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts has plans to help Bokaer develop his next big project this spring.

During Psophonia Dance Company’s spring show, “Rip in the Atmosphere,” co-founder Sonia Noriega had the audience watch three versions of the same solo, each set to different music. During intermission, the audience voted on which music worked best. During the second half of the show, dancers repeated the piece as a trio with the winning piece of music. “Voting gave me the opportunity to interact with the audience,” says Noriega, who spent the intermission urging people to cast their vote. “People really got into it.”

BalletMet in Columbus, Ohio, goes a step further in letting audiences curate the bill that opens the September season through a voting process in BalletMet onDemand. I voted for Dominic Walsh and Houston Ballet chief Stanton Welch, who has a long relationship with the innovative Ohio troupe. Mildred’s Umbrella also lets the audience sit in the curator’s seat this season with their Fresh Ink Reading Series, where the audience votes for which play to produce next season.

Choreographer Jane Comfort takes the voting concept to the deepest place, letting selected audience members judge a Barbie beauty contest smack in the middle of her new work, Beauty, performed by Jane Comfort and Company at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival this week. The judged get to play judge in Comfort’s biting examination of the impossible standards of beauty set by mainstream media. I voted for Barbie #4 and she won. I felt, well, powerful.

I can’t wait to see what artists want me to vote on next. While the wisdom of the crowd is still being negotiated, I firmly believe that the future of art is in direct and lively communication. If it comes with some soup and beer, even better. Tired of just sitting there, we want to be a part of the action.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

New Buildings for Dance

Kansas City Ballet’s Bolender Center for Dance and Creativity. Photo by Lisa Lipovac.

Reprinted from Culturemap.

Update:  The story may have posted a while back but my interest in new buildings for dance continues.  The Kansas City Ballet’s Bolender Center for Dance and Creativity  in the renovated 1914 Power House building on the Union Station campus, opens on August 22, 2011. With seven studios, including the main studio floor of the Ginger and Michael Frost Studio Theatre, the Bolender Center will serve as the destination for dance for the company, the school and the community as well.  I had the good fortune to spend some time with Kansas City Ballet’s Music Director Ramona Pansegrau at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival this summer, who told me about their new dance digs. The building opened on Aug. 22, 2011.  I finally did get to write a story on Ballet Austin’s downtown choice in Dance Teacher.  I am also happy to report that I have not gotten lost in Houston Ballet’s Center for Dance in at least a week. The building is breaking in nicely and I still get a thrill when I drive by.

“When I get my career off the ground, I’m going to perform in this alley,” I told my brother some three decades ago. The pathetic part is that I wasn’t kidding.

That alley was eventually officially named “Dance Alley,” even though the venue was forced into an even more marginal area. During my dancing life, I performed in all manner of hovels, ramshackle spaces and places that the fire marshal deemed not fit for the public (fine for dancers though).

So you can just imagine my joy when I returned from summer vacation two years ago to find Houston Ballet’s Center for Dance already on its way to becoming Houston’s temple of dance.

Artists Jordan Reed and Katlyn Addison rehearse in the new Houston Ballet Center for Dance. Photo by Amitava Sarkar

New buildings and arts organizations make a touchy subject. Putting money into bricks and mortar has bankrupted many a theater company in this nation. But I was the one getting defensive if anyone gave me grief about Houston Ballet’s new digs. I would ask, “Have you ever been in C.C. Conner’s office when the men are jumping? Houston Ballet needed a new building to match the level of their national stature. Let’s get on it with.” And they did.

As a card carrying-citizen of Planet Houston dance, I take pride in that shiny new structure. My name is scribbled on the last steel beam, along with those of the staff, the company and members of the entire Houston Ballet community. I walked into the building with the company for the first time, and watched their very first plie. Company class may have been business as usual, yet I imagine the day stirred many a dancer to wonder, “I work here?”

Here’s a question: How do you know how society values you based on the buildings you work in? I set off on a pilgrimage to find out.

New York

I nearly fell over crossing 55th Street, when I first laid eyes on the Joan A. Weill Center for Dance, home of Alvin Ailey American Dance TheaterAiley II and The Ailey School in New York City. It’s that impressive. Large windows allow you to gaze on all kinds of dancing. Light and airy, if buildings could breath, this one does.

The in-house theater has perfect sight lines for dance, too. I like to pop in every time I’m in New York and feel in a “dance is in the dumps” mood. I perk right up as I imagine the some 5,000 students do who train yearly in the 77,000-square-foot facility. It’s a dance monument, if I have ever seen one.

Center for Performance Research in Brooklyn, New York Photo by Michael Hart

I ventured over to Center For Performance Research, Brooklyn’s first L.E.E.D. Certified green building of its kind. The award-winning lab offers affordable space for performance and rehearsal along with innovative programing. Developed by Jonah Bokaer and John Jasperse, the 4,000-square-foot space is a mixed-use residential and commercial condominium that also houses a non-profit community arts facility on the ground floor. It’s one smart way of having a place to develop your work.

Bokaer and Jasperse, two seminal American dance makers, built the studio’s floor themselves. I had to think about that for a minute. You should too.

Ballet Austin's Butler Dance Education Center in downtown Austin Photo by Andrew Yates

Austin

I promised I would drive by Ballet Austin for a brief chat with their artistic director Stephen Mills last year when Dominic Walsh was featured in the troupe’s New American Talent program Two hours later, I was still there, entranced by the tale of how executive director Cookie Ruiz  granted Mills’ wish of finding a downtown location.

Today, the Butler Dance Education Center houses two schools, Ballet Austin’s Academy, The Butler Community School, along with the professional company and Ballet Austin II, who just happen to be performing Thang Dao’s Quiet Imprint  in Houston on Saturday at the Hobby Center. The building is glamorous, a total looker, just teaming with motion and so welcoming.

If a building could say, “Hey, come on in,” this one does. No wonder I didn’t want to leave — that and everyone’s warm Texas hospitality.

James and Nancy Gaertner Performing Arts Center at Sam Houston State University

Sam Houston State & Others

There are buildings I have written about but have yet to visit, like ODC’s The Dance Commons in San Francisco, Mark Morris Dance Group’s Brooklyn-based The Dance CenterJoffrey Ballet’s Joffrey Tower in Chicago and Booker T. Washington’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas’ sleek new arts district. I’d like to see Atlanta Ballet’s snazzy new place as well.

My most recent visit was to Sam Houston State University‘s new James & Nancy Gaertner Performing Arts Center, which opened this past fall. I was there to visit classes, catch up with the faculty and review their inaugural concert in The Dance Gallery, built especially for dance. The building is graceful, there is no other way to explain it. A dramatic James Surls sculpture fills the atrium of this spacious facility, which encourages students of various disciplines to mix and mingle.

Dana E. Nicolay, associate dean and professor of dance, treated me to an in-depth tour. As a key person in the planning process, Nicolay could explain the thought behind every decision in elaborate detail. The pride he exuded was palpable. We lingered for a long while, watching classes through the expansive windows.

The experience of a new space is considerably different for those who endured the difficulties of the dance department’s former quarters than for freshmen, who have only known this elegant place.

Even though I already knew the answer to my question, I couldn’t resist asking. “Do you think it affects dancers’ self esteem to learn in a building like this?” The look in Nicolay’s eyes told me everything I needed to know.

His comments made me think about the Summer Intensive students who will enter Houston Ballet’s building soon and never know anything different. This will be their first impression of Houston Ballet.

If buildings could talk, this one is whispering, “You are valued.”

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Day of Dance: 24 at Jacob’s Pillow

Jodi Melnick and David Neumann in July; photo Cherylynn Tsushima

If a tree could take a bow,  it would most likely happen at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.  Perhaps it did.  Read on.

My summer travels began and ended at Jacob’s Pillow, the best place I know to dance binge while enjoying the great outdoors. The day began with the natural high I get from seeing Pillow dance banners lining Route 20. This thrills me every time. Why don’t we do this more?

Trisha Brown Dance Company in Set and Reset; photo Julieta Cervantes

Trisha Brown Dance Company celebrated its 40th anniversary with a program spanning several decades, from the freshly minted les Yeux et l’ame to the 1973 witty classic Spanish Dance. It was Brown’s 1993 Set and Reset, with sets and costumes by Robert Rauschenberg and music by Laurie Anderson, that reminded me how deeply Brown’s vocabulary is engrained in my postmodern generation. Forming and un-forming, taking shape and letting it dissipate, sculpting space with a profound nuance, these are the characteristics of Brown’s wonderfully idiosyncratic style, all of which were in full evidence in this set of works. Yet, embedded in this sea of flow is a compelling palette of exquisite detail. It’s truly extraordinary that such richly textured movement can have such a fleeting feel.  Shape sans permanence, that’s Brown’s gift to us.

Jodi Melnick in Fanfare; photo Cherylynn Tsushima

What a set of dreamy movers in the pairing of David Neumann and Jodi Melnick , who teamed up at the suggestion of Pillow artistic and executive director Ella Baff.  (Neumann was last seen in Houston dancing the bittersweet A Day of It , his collaboration with Jane Weiner.)  I could watch these two move all day long, they’re that interesting.  Neumann possesses a slippery quality, looking as if a prat fall might occur at any minute, while Melnick’s calculated delicacy evokes a quiet authority.  Her breathtakingly subtle Fanfare combined an intricate gestural language with Burt Barr’s visuals of an electric metal fan.

David Neumann in Tough the Tough (redux); photo Cherylynn Tsushima

Neumann plays mankind, or “Steve,” with a droll wit in Tough the Tough (Redux), which featured an oddly upbeat existentialist text by Will Eno. The magnificent bowing tree comes in during Melnick and Neumann’s gorgeous duet July, where their understated grace seemed to stand in perfect balance to the nobility of the pine tree on full splendid view through the open back doors of the Doris Duke Theater.  In an “only at the Pillow” move,  Melnick and Neumann motioned to the tree at the end.

Maura Keefe, Lisa Neidermeyer, Debra Levine, Jennifer Edwards, Nancy Wozny; Photo by Cherylynn Tsushima

In between performances,  I hopped on a Pillow Talk  “Dancing Online” panel moderated by Scholar Maura Keefe,  sharing the stage with Virtual Pillow project manager Lisa Niedermeyer, and Huffington Post writers Debra Levine and Jennifer Edwards . The consensus is that people are watching and reading dance online, but we need more evidence of it to make a stronger case that we have a solid audience.  So hit those share buttons people, but don’t forget to actually read the piece first. Be less passive, and comment, should you feel the need. Writers alone can’t up the value of web based dance writing,  or dance writing in general.  We need engaged readers, and lots of them.

zoe | juniper in A Crack in Everything; photo Christopher Duggan

Catching up on most of what I missed in the archives took up the in between hours. I caught Jonah BokaerZoe|Juniper, and Big Dance Theater, all of whom have Houston connections in the upcoming season. Zoe | Juniper will be at DiverseWorks on Jan. 19-21, Bokaer will be an artist-in-residence at University of Houston Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts and Big Dance Theater’s Paul Lazar directs Suzanne Bocanegra in When a Priest Marries a Witch on Nov. 1, also at the Mitchell Center.

Artist faculty of The School at Jacob's Pillow created work on the dancers, who then performed for the public duringthe free Inside/Out series every Saturday throughout the Festival.

No Pillow experience is complete without a visit to the Inside/Out stage. Nestled between a cherubic four-year old and my brother, each of us enthralled by the mountain view setting and earnest performances from the Jazz /Musical Theater students from all over the globe, it occurred to me that dance is something you can learn to love at any age. What better place to do it than the Pillow?

Reprinted from Dance Source Houston.

Trisha Brown Dance Company at Jacob’s Pillow

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Face to Face with Jonah Bokaer

David Rafaël Botana, James McGinn in Jonak Bokaer's Filter. Photo by Anna Lee Campbell

In 2006, dance and media artist Jonah Bokaer was one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch”—a title to which he has delivered. In the midst of a whirlwind career, he’s been named one of The New York Times ’Nifty 50,” and Crain’s New York  selected him as a “40 under 40.” He’s become known as a fearless advocate of the arts and his name has become synonymous with technology.

Bokaer was first noticed at 18, when he joined the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and danced with them from 2000 to 2007. He’s worked with artists including John Jasperse, David Gordon and Deborah Hay, and he is a frequent choreographer for stage director Robert Wilson. Bokaer helped found two Brooklyn-based nonprofits: Chez Bushwick, a performance and rehearsal space, and the Center for Performance Research, a LEED-certified green building where he develops his work.

Over the course of the 2010–11 school year, he spent five weeks in residence at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he premiered his multimedia piece FILTER. There, in collaboration with grad student Stephen Garrett, he developed Mass Mobile, a mobile app that lets audience members alter FILTER’s lighting design elements before and during performances. At his Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival debut next month, Bokaer will present RECESS and Why Patterns—a collaboration with design firm Snarkitecture and 10,000 ping-pong balls.

 

Jonah Bokaer's Why Patterns; photo Robert Benschop

 

Dance Teacher: Can you tell us about the work that will be shown at Jacob’s Pillow? 
Jonah Bokaer: Why Patterns is set up like a ping-pong game, and there are three floods of balls from above, the side—everywhere that interrupts the dance. RECESS  is an event that I made with the artist Daniel Arsham. Like its title, the piece addresses a childhood game of playtime, but the title also refers to negative space: a recess or cavity. Although these works are very abstract, they represent a lighthearted approach to making new choreography.

DT: What are the seeds of  FILTER?
JB: I grew up as one of four brothers, and I decided to portray scenes of fraternal behavior that spoke about coming of age. I cast the production with four performers who look nearly identical to one another, to point toward a theme of visual duplication. This was inspired by the photography of Anthony Goicolea, whose portraiture involves multiple images of the same figure, altered digitally. The title of the piece refers to the parts of my work that are never seen by the public: changing and filtering movements on-screen through digital tools, like live-processing and animation programs.

DT: Can you walk us through Mass Mobile, the app used in FILTER? 
JB: The app functions as a tool for the public to change the look, color, occasion and angle of the lighting. The set had nine trees onstage, and the audience could choose trees 1–9 to light up the space around them, within about two seconds of touching their phones. They could also choose the color of lighting. The results yielded far more participation than we had estimated. In performance, the app was actually so popular that it crashed the server before Scene Three.

The set for "FILTER." (Photos by Anthony Goicolea)

DT: How did it change the piece? 
JB: The mood was impacted: I sensed a great deal more blue in the work, which might have led to a more melancholy or intense viewing experience. There was also a very rapid rhythm of the audience’s responses—which was a surprise.

DT: You have done so much in your career already. What are your goals?
JB: I’m currently working on my 30th work of choreography, which will be complete in the fall of 2012, near the time of my 30th birthday. Longer term, I hope to stabilize the activities of Center for Performance Research and establish the space as a permanent incubator for artists in NYC. Much longer term, I’d be fascinated to conduct more research in astronomy and other gravitational systems. Also, it’s a personal goal to own an apartment.

Reprinted from Dance Teacher Magazine.

An excerpt of Jonah Bokaer’s Why Patterns

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,