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Interpretive Dancers Romped Through Philip Johnson's Iconic Glass House

Jonah Bokaer staged an immersive performance for The Glass House's 10th Anniversary Summer Party.

by Kara Weisenstein
Jun 15 2017, 9:53pm

Photo by Michael Biondo.

I'm standing inside The Glass House, architect Philip Johnson's iconic mid-century estate in suburban Connecticut, watching combat boot-clad women stand astride men crawling on all fours like beasts of burden, and the contrast is kind of funny. Well-heeled benefactors, there for The Glass House's 10th Anniversary Summer Party, scramble to move out of the way (or edge close enough to snap a shareworthy photo) as choreographer Jonah Bokaer's somber-faced dancers invade the patch of lawn on which they've just been sipping champagne and enjoying a fancy fried chicken picnic.

It's a collision of raw physicality with posh aesthetics, an intervention I appreciate as I wander the property's 49 sprawling acres of woodland, field, and lake. Though the Glass House, which is really an assemblage of different buildings designed to function in concert with one another, was Johnson and his partner David Whitney's home from 1949 until Johnson's death in 2005, it's easy to think of the architecture a relic to be seen and not touched. The controlled, animal movements of the dancers "activated" the space like children with permission to run amok, climbing monuments, scaling walls, and doing some actual living in buildings that were, after all, once meant to be a home.

Photo by Michael Biondo

Bokaer's ties to The Glass House run deep. He performed with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company at the museum's opening celebration in 2007. For its 10th Anniversary, the choreographer devised a site-specific, one-time only performance inspired by Ovid's The Metamorphoses. Staged around the estate's varied architecture, ranging from a bunker-like underground art gallery to the eponymous crystalline villa, Bokaer's eight performers—Tal Adler-Arieli, Laura Gutierrez, James Koroni, Callie Lyons, James McGinn, Szabi Pataki, Sara Procopio, Betti Rollo—quickly scattered and traversed The Glass House's sprawling grounds, inviting any guests intrepid enough to venture away from the bar to follow.

The choreographer explains that "the different genres and divisions in the narrative allow The Metamorphoses to display a wide range of themes." Bokaer chose to center his interpretation on water, a recurring element in Ovid's mythical saga, and each movement of his piece took place in a different symbolic site. Sweeping and emotive, Bokaer's site-specific dance piece was a saga in its own right.

Photo by Michael Biondo

For partygoers who tired of iconic architecture, immersive dance, and indulgent picnic foods, there was also a feast of visual art on display. In Johnson's underground paintings gallery, Julian Schnabel: Paintings that I hope Philip and David would like offered an intimate survey of the prolific painter's work. In one of the property's sprawling fields, a monumental Robert Indiana sculpture, One Through Zero, was also on view.

With a sweeping score by Greek composer Stavros Gasparatos and punk-nymph costumes by Joshua Katcher of the label Brave GentleMan, Bokaer's performance was just one piece of the afternoon's buffet of highbrow art. Luckily, with plenty of equally bourgeoisie booze on hand, it wasn't hard to recline in the glass, kick off your heels, and let the cultural deluge consume you.

© Lane Coder
© Lane Coder
Photo by Michael Biondo
© Lane Coder
© Lane Coder
Photo by Michael Biondo

The Glass House is open for tours on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday between May 1 and November 30. Learn more about choreographer Jonah Bokaer on his website.


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