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Monday, October 17, 2016

Rules Of The Game—Playing Together Nicely

Rules Of The Game. Photo: Sharon Bradford
Rules Of The Game, a new collaboration between Jonah Bokaer, Daniel Arsham, and Pharrell Williams, is on a program with RECESS (2010) and Why Patterns (2011) at the Howard Gilman Opera House from Nov 10—12. Bokaer answered some questions about ROTG.

Susan Yung: How much of Pirandello’s story/text is present in Rules Of The Game?

Jonah Bokaer: The work is actually loosely inspired by the original text from Pirandello. At the beginning of this creation, I gave each of my collaborators a Pirandello text as a point of departure for Rules Of The Game (also the name of another Pirandello play-within-a-play), which is the play within Six Characters in Search of an Author.

I distributed a character to each dancer, for instance: James McGinn was assigned the Producer, Sara Procopio and Szabi Pataki work off of the Mother and Father, Callie Lyons assumed a role very similar to the Daughter, and parallel to that James Koroni as the Son. Laura Gutierrez was assigned the Ghost, and Betti Rollo, who is Italian-born, appeared closest to Madame Pace, etc. Also, each performer inherited and interpreted this ghost of the original, in their own way. I call it a “ghost” because it is a phantom presence for the performativity—the dancers were not asked to memorize text, for example.

I also kept the structure of the piece, and Pharrell Williams composed one track per scene. I very loosely followed this structure, but did not keep the literal narrative of the play. The choreography is more abstract and structured around a central theme of “games,” which recurs in my body of work with Daniel Arsham.

SY: Pharrell Williams wrote the score before you began choreographing, yes? How did you and Daniel proceed from there… how much conversation about specific imagery was exchanged? Just wondering about the extent and process of your collaboration, which now dates back a decade.

Why Patterns. Photo: Robert Benschop
JB: Following several years of dialogue and coordination, Pharrell Williams provided a set of 13 tracks (called “stem files”) by August 2015. These were raw files and we started our first residency hosted by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, with the dancers joining shortly after. During this residency we explored choreographic phrases based on these raw files with the understanding that final music did not yet exist.

We had three residencies in total with the dancers. Daniel Arsham attended for one day in residency number two, and prior to the premiere during residency number three. We added new layers during each residency. David Campbell was brought in as arranger, orchestrator, and conductor, working progressively over the course of the production. On his end, Daniel would add visual elements in his studio in New York. He started with a few objects, he then added the idea of a film in January 2016.

Although my first choreography dates to 2002, one could say that ROTG crowns 10 years of collaboration with Daniel. Let’s call it an apex. We have been developing a scenic language since the beginning. Today we understand each other without a word. We have a good understanding of one another’s practice, needs, and rhythms of production. However, each production can contain multiple collaborators, which with ROTG is particularly important. Having a third collaborator such as Pharrell added so much to our artistic synergy; we had some very authentic and creative sessions altogether. We also worked very closely with David Campbell.

SY: There are some rigorous fight-like passages in ROTG that strike me as atypical for your work. Where did you draw inspiration for that?

JB: During my first residency with all the dancers we solely worked on improvisation. The theme was “gaming.” I would direct them in groups, duets, and solos. Each dancer individually and collectively brought most of the ideas that I choreographed afterward organically. So the dancers are really the point of departure and until the end I would let them change parts. We were fine-tuning until maybe one hour before the world premiere; even David Campbell was polishing details on the score until the last minute.

The combat scene takes place in Scene 10, and is one of the central duets in this piece. I had James McGinn and Albert Drake work around the theme of the sport, games, and of the fights; I trained them in a simple form of martial arts that I’m versed in, and took a lot from their own boxing movements as well as from other martial movements. I had the opportunity to direct eight dancers from all around the world; each of them has their own signature—which I think makes a performance richer to watch.

Rules of the Game comes to the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House Nov 10—12, and tickets are still available.

Susan Yung is senior editorial manager at BAM.

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