Rules Of The Game premieres tomorrow, February 10, in Los Angeles at CAP UCLA at the Royce Hall. The production is a collaboration between choreographer Jonah Bokaer, artist Daniel Arsham, and composer Pharrell Williams. Debuting last May in Dallas during the SOLUNA International Music & Arts Festival, and then shown at the BAM Next Wave Festival in New York in November, the multi-disciplinary work brings together dance, visual arts, and music. Whitewall caught up with Bokaer to discuss the inspiration behind Rules Of The Game, joining forces with Arsham and Williams, and why he’s looking forward to 1,000 Los Angeles public school children seeing the dress rehearsal this week.
WHITEWALL: Luigi Priandello’s Rules Of The Game was a point of departure for this production. What appealed you about the structure of a show within a show for this production?
JONAH BOKAER: What appealed me the most in Pirandello’s play, and throughout his work, is that a dramatic author for the stage understood perfectly the problematics that any stage director could ever face. One of them, in addition to a “play within a play” structure, is the break the fourth wall, which his play achieves—as does Six Characters In Search Of An Author. In theatre we call the fourth wall the imaginary wall that separates the proscenium stage from the audience. I like the fact that Pirandello, in his play, blurred the codes between performance and audience, who may not know whether the action is a performance, or reality.
WW: The choreography in parts of the production feel Martial Arts-inspired. What attracted you to this kind of movement?
JB: Well, the tile is quite evocative, and speaks of games, and competition perhaps. We explored each scene as individual components, to be used with creative liberty for movement. During creative session with the dancers, we worked on each scene, choreographing both “rules,” and “games.” It is true that we have explored Martial Arts too, which in many combative sports demonstrate very strict and beautiful philosophy of combat. As a performer, I train my body every day with a martial art called Chi Kung—and I also do a lot of yoga, two different forms of it. These two practices remind me of other martial arts, because of their spiritual and energetic dimensions. In some cultures, Chi Kung actually prefigures martial arts development. I wanted a fight scene to be embedded in the piece (as in the play) to also fit the original narrative structure of the production.
WW: Daniel Arsham is a long-time collaborator, who has created scenography for pieces like RECESS and Why Patterns. In Rules Of The Game, a video project by Arsham provides the background. What was it like creating choreography from, with, and around moving images?
JB: I have integrated the video into the choreography through what’s called “German Masking,” in which there are no theatrical wings in the production—only one wide open space. I believe this frames Daniel Arsham’s video art in the best possible framework. The dancers are responding the motion images on the screen, and vice versa. It is a bit different to work this way, because Daniel and I have mainly been working with props and sculptures in the past. From a dancer’s perspective, it is a different approach to interact with a 3D object on stage, rather than with 2D elements. And Rules Of The Game uses both. Finally, the video also adds some rhythms to the piece, as it was also edited to fit the musical score: which gave us more complexity, and defined the work further. If you see the performance live it definitely gives more depth to the proscenium stage, and the dancers seem to be come out of the screen at times: the color and the greyscale of the production elements are also matched entirely.
WW: This piece is a first in that it is a collaboration between you, Arsham, and Pharrell Williams. How did the score composed by Williams (co-composed and arranged by David Campbell) and recorded by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra affect the choreography?
JB: In general I work with composers who deliver a score that is already complete, or at least partially ready, when we start the work. With Pharrell Williams and David Campbell it was a fascinating process in the sense that we all started to work together at the same time. Rules Of The Game was originally commissioned by BAM Next Wave Festival, and co-commissioned by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s SOLUNA International Music and Arts Festival, also co-commissioned by CAP UCLA and The Krannert Center for the Performing Arts Center.
When we first received the commission by BAM, and then the Dallas Symphony Orchestra we had absolutely nothing. So in less than a year, maybe nine months, we had to create a choreography, a scenic concept, the music—as well as lighting and costumes. The most interesting and unique aspect with this choreography is that we had to create the choreography alongside with the development of the music—from scratch. First we started to rehearse and create the choreographic phrases from the raw files that Pharrell provided. This music went into the hands of arranger and co-composer David Campbell (who also conducted the Dallas Symphony Orchestra), and the music had changed along the months, so we had to adapt our materials quickly, and stay synchronized as collaborators. For me and my dancers, it was the choreography, and for Daniel the editing of the film. It has been a fascinating experience to work with both Pharrell Williams and David Campbell, who are both extremely talented, and immensely generous in their artistic approach.
WW: Your choreography aims to transform how the public sees and understand dance. What do preconceived notions about dance do you want to up-end?
JB: I often say if you have two eyes, you can completely see, know, and understand dance. In this digital era, I believe that we have an important role to play in contributing to new ways that dance and performance can be seen and perceived: this is why I have often broken through the fourth wall of the stage, and beyond, for example bringing choreography into public spaces, such as museum spaces, art galleries, outdoor spaces, and more. I have been involved in developing applications as well, and I am currently working on an app call Crowed Codes, which will allow crowds (and users) to see the movement and spatial patterns their are forming. I have always been interested in the visual aspect of dance and choreography since the beginning of my work.
WW: Rules Of The Game is touring internationally for a few years. The beauty of dance, music, and the visual arts is that they are languages that need no translation. What about the international tour are you most looking forward to?
JB: The international scope is beyond touring. The project itself is international: we work with eight dancers from five different nationalities, which I feel, speaks to today, and generations of today. Each of them have joined the project and have brought their own cultural background into the work. To this extent, the technicians, curators, producers, administrators, creative, designers are also coming from very diverse backgrounds, which makes the work so much more rich from my perspective.
In Los Angeles, we are proud the show the work at the Royce Hall at CAP UCLA. Prior to the premiere we will welcome 1,000 school children to see a dress rehearsal! This program is called “Design For Sharing,” a local organization supporting youth in the Los Angeles Public School System—a sector which my Aunt, Robin Lithgow, has been very involved in. This and other local engagement is in collaboration with the CAP UCLA Artistic Director Kristy Edmunds.
For all of us onstage, it is very moving to be performing in front of a younger audience. In general children are much more intuitive—and they respond immediately to the nature of a work in front of them—and to what’s happening on stage.