Untitled Corner

July 12, 2009

NYC was warm and golden on Wednesday night, the perfect backdrop for an outdoor, site-specific performance by Jonah Bokaer and Judith Sanchez Ruiz. The impressively pedigreed pair–Bokaer danced with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and Ruiz is currently performing with the Trisha Brown Dance Company–collaborated with acclaimed sculptor Daniel Arsham to create Untitled Corner, part of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Sitelines Series for the River to River Festival. (River to River, by the way, is a fantastic series of public performances that happen all over the city each summer. Check it out if you’re in the area: rivertorivernyc.com.)

The program notes describe Untitled Corner, performed at the Chase Manhattan plaza in the financial district, as an examination of “memory loss, pattern recognition, and perceptual faculties as they apply to the human body in public space.” I’m not sure I got all that out of the 45-minute dance sequence. (Sometimes I wish dancers wouldn’t use program notes.) But as Bokaer and Ruiz manipulated and puppeted each other’s bodies, occasionally separating to perform disjointed, limb-driven solos, I was consistently reminded of Cunningham’s geometric choreography. And Ruiz in particular is a magnetic performer. She was a standout in Trisha Brown’s season at the Brooklyn Academy of Music this spring, and she brought a riveting, introverted focus to this performance.

The best part of the work, however, was Arsham’s sculpture. Initially it appeared to be a solid white foamcore cube, presiding serenely at upstage center. But a few minutes into the piece, Arsham–who apparently had been stationed inside the structure from the beginning–began pushing small pieces out of one of the walls, like a chick pecking its way out of an egg, until he’d created a jagged-edged porthole of sorts. Eventually, Arsham emerged through that opening and began excavating the other visible wall of the cube, creating a similar window in that surface. (Watching Arsham methodically destroying his own sculpture was sometimes more engrossing than the dancing itself.)

In the final moments of the piece, Ruiz entered one of the cube’s holes headfirst, while Bokaer entered the other feet-first, so that for a moment they seemed to be a single elongated body. Then they slowly eased themselves into the sculpture, as if slipping underwater. I found myself holding my breath for them.

Untitled Corner runs through July 17th. Click here for showtimes and more information. (But don’t worry about tickets–like all of the River to River performances, it’s free!)