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Rehearsal in New York, October 2003.
The avant-garde lives in Lebanese-French architect Ammar Eloueini. A participant in the famous first "paperless" studios at Columbia University, taught by Greg Lynn and Hani Rashid, Eloueini was an early adapter to animation-software packages like SoftImage and Maya. His most recent project, a set for choreographer John Jasperse, realizes the programs' fluid on-screen forms in a complexly bent plane of translucent white polycarbonate panels, joined with plastic zip ties and suspended on cables just above the stage floor.

Eloueini designed the set for "California," a dance that debuted on November 30th, 2003, at the International Dance Festival in Cannes, France. Jasperse and his company will eventually perform "California" more than 50 times, at venues across Europe and the United States. To avoid difficulties with customs, the set had to be small and light enough to be shipped in a container the size of a suitcase; moreover, Eloueini was given a budget of only $2,000.

Several months before the Cannes debut, the dancers (three women and two men, including Jasperse) conducted a series of rehearsals in Chicago, where Eloueini holds a faculty position at the local campus of the University of Illinois. Eloueini created a mock-up of the set in the auditorium of the Museum of Contemporary Art, designed by German architect Josef-Paul Kleihues.

The set in its travel 4x4 box.

Assembling the set.

Mock-up construction at the MCA in Chicago September 2003.

The museum invited the local cultural community to watch the troupe rehearse. The dancers, dressed informally in sweats and tank tops, tried out various movements, with the set in different positions and under different lighting conditions. The abstract form of the set invited literal comparisons —cave, or cloud, or wave— and Jasperse and his company seemed uncertain about how to take it. One fragment of choreography seated several dancers under the floating set around an electric light, like latter-day cavemen. Several times, the dancers moved on their sides, with slug-like motion, across the stage, behind, in front of, or under Eloueini's set, in time to a damaged digital recording of composer Jonathan Bepler's score.

Rehearsal at the MCA in Chicago September 2003.

At a post-rehearsal discussion, Ben Nicholson, an assistant professor of architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology, suggested that the choreography take cues from the set design itself—not as sign or symbol, but as a structure with its own inherent properties. At a later point in the project, Eloueini says, "John saw the process of fabrication," when the polycarbonate sheets were scored, cut, and reassembled with the zip ties, "and he integrated this into the performance." At Cannes, the dancers partially disassembled the set, unfolding a section of the polygonal plastic panels and laying them on the floor.

Premiere at the International Dance Festival in Cannes, France November 2003.

Unfolded geometry.

Pattern for CNC machine.
Jasperse describes the set as "an architecture of expectation." Eloueini, like so many adherents of digital architecture, struggles with the unfamiliarity of his adopted tongue. Wittingly or not, Eloueini has have assumed the burden of the historic avant-garde, exploring the potentials and limitations of a new design tool before colleagues, contractors, clients, or the public-at-large have had the time to adjust. The rehearsals are most entertaining.

Ned Cramer

stage set design: Ammar Eloueini, Digit-all Studio
assistant: Gonçalo Antunes de Azevedo

choreography: John Jasperse
performers: Steven Fetherhuff, Eleanor Hullihan, John Jasperse, Rachel Poirier, Katy Pyle
original music: Jonathan Bepler
lighting design: John Jasperse & Joe Levasseur
Ammar Eloueini (born in Beirut 1968) received a DPLG with honors from Paris (1994) and a MSAAD from Columbia University (1996). Acknowledged with the Albums des Jeunes Architectes by the French Ministry of Culture (2002), he was also awarded the Villa Medicis Hors les Murs (1999). His designs have been featured in solo and group exhibits and published worldwide. Currently Ammar Eloueini chairs the Digital Media Program and teaches design studio at the University of Illinois in Chicago, as well as collaborating with Archeworks design laboratory. As a registered architect in France, Ammar Eloueini maintains his practice, Digit-all Studio (est. 1997), in Paris and Chicago.



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