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"Reaching beyond scenography"

The New York-based choreographer talks about his creation for the Hennessy 250 Tour, which was created in collaboration with his friend, the visual artist Daniel Arsham.

Jonah Bokaer, how would you define your art?
I’m a choreographer and an artist and I make abstract work. I’ve been making dance since 2002, but at the same time I was also doing an arts degree in visual and media arts. So I really exist between the two worlds.

What is your main research field?
My entire focus and body of work is based upon analysing the relationship between dance and visual art. There has always been that line that exists between the two fields. I am looking not only at the relationship between these two spheres but also sometimes at how they overlap with each other, creating something new that is more intense than either part alone. A big part of my research, therefore is finding a new system that will enable me to reach beyond scenography, in order to create a sphere in which is always fine art that is operating with dance. This is a very different concept than the historical conception of traditional scenography.

How did you join the Hennessy 250 adventure?
For Daniel and I since we live and work in Brooklyn, which is a very industrious and creative part of the world, we were naturally attracted to the notion of “production” that is a key part the Hennessy 250 Tour. And for us, as it is for many artists, there is a sense of being impressed by what the Maison has produced for this celebration. It is of great interest to us the many ways in which the Maison continues to look forward in its contemporary creative development. Although we work internationally, having this chance to show our work in NY- where we live- and to have it be so supported by our hometown audience is an especially emotional thing.

Where did you find your inspiration this time?
The values that generally apply to my work are distillation and refinement and these values were therefore the easiest points of entry for my collaborators and I when we began this project. Distillation is not only a part of the process; it’s one of the fundamental values of the Maison. I tried to focus on this idea and to bring it to life. The question was: what are we distilling? I think the answer is that we are blending the four dancers and blending Daniel and my artwork together.

Tell us about your creation at Lincoln Center?
My creation for the Hennessy 250 Tour was very much based on this idea of “blending” and of mixing different types of choreographies together into a final creation. We have very written and very set phases of movements and then moments which are much more open in their structure and in their temporality. In this context, thankfully we were able to have the original artwork of Daniel Arsham onstage. And this work is very consistent with everything that we make: the fact that we incorporate artwork into the piece instead of simply having just a decorative “décor”; which results in the placement of choreography and artwork within the dialogue. I believe that these artistic goals were achieved here, within this piece, at a very high level.

How do you see your work evolve in the next 50 years?
The path of looking at dance and visual art symbiotically is going to require an enormous amount of evolution because the growth and the transformation each year is immense and it’s a very full pallet to work on. Traditionally, dancing companies are based in one country, but what I see developing among the artists of my generation is an increasingly transnational existence. What I am inspired to do right now is to continue working with performing artists that come from across the world. I feel fortunate because I know, without any hesitation, that I want to continue to choreograph for another 50 years. I see my work as a lifelong project.