Jonah Bokaer Announced as Mellon Foundation DisTIL Fellow for 2018-20

Award-winning choreographer and visual artist Jonah Bokaer has been selected as the fourth Andrew W. Mellon Foundation DisTIL (Discovery Through Iterative Learning) Fellow at Carolina Performing Arts at UNC-Chapel Hill. Known worldwide for merging choreography with visual art and design, Bokaer has created 62 original works (spanning dance, drawing, motion capture work, interactive installations, film, and more). His work also includes the creation of four original apps that invite audiences to participate in live performance, making him the first choreographer to design such an app. Bokaer is the founder of Jonah Bokaer Arts Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit organization that operates Jonah Bokaer Choreography and the independent artspace “Chez Bushwick” (both founded in 2002); CPR – Center for Performance Research (founded 2008); and Space 428 (founded 2016).

“I have always admired Jonah’s collaborative spirit and fearless embrace of new media,” said Carolina Performing Arts Executive and Artistic Director Emil Kang. “I am so pleased that, through DisTIL, we have been able to create an opportunity to collaborate with him, and I look forward to seeing what he uncovers.”

Bokaer has long held an interest in working globally, and in the marginalized and underrepresented in visual and performing arts, an idea that has become a recurring theme in his work. As his residency with CPA begins, the Tunisian-American has expressed interest in investigating ideas around Middle Eastern and North African identity and representation—at UNC, in North Carolina, and in the field of dance. He is also interested in exploring trauma and healing at UNC-Chapel Hill and in the surrounding community, specifically in relation to the 2015 murder of three young UNC students of Middle Eastern origin (known by the name “Our Three Winners”). His first in-person fellowship visit to UNC-Chapel Hill took place from September 1-7, 2018, during which time he began a series of preparatory meetings and gatherings with UNC faculty, staff, and community stakeholders to develop a working set of inquiries that will ultimately launch his full-scale projects as a DisTIL Fellow. These information-gathering encounters with faculty, staff, and students have included experts from disciplines and campus centers spanning Asian studies, sociology, the UNC Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations, counseling and psychological services, and others. Bokaer also initiated a series of open rehearsals for the campus and arts communities of Chapel Hill at CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio.

“As I evolve my practice, the content and themes of my work are beginning to craft targeted questions around the peoples who have vanished, gone missing, remained absent, or become under-represented, perhaps not having had an opportunity to participate in the performing arts in the United States during the 20th century, nor enjoyed its funding structures. I am interested in engaging with UNC faculty deeply, over time, for focused project development around these subjects,” says Bokaer.

The final named DisTIL fellow, Bokaer will be the first whose residency will involve existing collaborators: specifically, members of Jonah Bokaer Choreography, who hail from across the globe, and more recently have expanded to include ice dancers and Team USA Olympic candidates Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter. Core company members, including fellow UNCSA alum Laura Gutierrez (Mexican/American), James Koroni (Iranian/American); education manager and dancer Sara Procopio; and rehearsal director Szabi Pataki (Hungarian/Dutch), among others, will join him on multiple visits, offering opportunities for the campus and public to engage with them through open dance rehearsals and other projects. These events take place at CPA’s new CURRENT ArtSpace + Studio, which serves as the creative and intellectual home for DisTIL Fellows and artists-in-residence to collaborate with faculty, students, and the community.

Jonah Bokaer’s work has been produced and performed in 292 cities across the globe, at venues including Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Festival d’Avignon, Spoleto Festival, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, P.S.1 MoMA, and The New Museum in New York City. A prolific collaborator, he has worked with artists Lynda Benglis, Anne Carson, Merce Cunningham, Robert Gober, Anthony McCall, Charles Renfro, Tino Sehgal, Lee Ufan, Pharrell Williams, and Robert Wilson. Bokaer’s recent honors include the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship (Choreography, USA 2015); USArtists Fellowship (Dance, Ford Foundation, 2015); NYU Center for Ballet and the Arts Fellowship (Royal Ballet of Flanders, 2016); Civitella Ranieri Foundation Fellowship (Visual Arts, Italy 2016); the National Theatre of Serbia Prize (Theatre, 2017, first American awarded); the Mohr Visiting Artist Fellowship at Stanford University (January 2019); and five title medals for Team USA Ice Dancers, Gold, Silver, Bronze, and others, this season. For more on Jonah Bokaer and his work, visit:

About The Mellon Foundation DisTIL Fellowship
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation DisTIL Fellowship (Discovery Through Iterative Learning) invites artists to UNC’s campus for multiple semesters to collaborate with faculty in a department outside their own area of expertise, providing them the opportunity to gain new insights into questions they have been asking about their work and the world. The DisTIL Fellows bring the unique creativity and approach of the arts to the work of faculty and students, helping them look at their own work through a new lens. The fellows also share the results of their ideas and discussions with the wider community. Past DisTIL Fellows include visual artist/puppetmaker/theater director Robin Frohardt (2017-18), singer/songwriter Toshi Reagon (2017-19), and clawhammer banjo player and singer/songwriter Abigail Washburn (2018-20).

“Our commitment to integrating the work of our world-class artists into the academic lifeblood of the University is rooted in the strong belief that the arts are uniquely qualified to communicate across social and cultural barriers, thus fostering the understanding of and empathy for different points of view and ways of life,” says Emil J. Kang, Executive and Artistic Director of Carolina Performing Arts.

About Carolina Performing Arts
The mission of Carolina Performing Arts (CPA) is to enrich lives by creating and presenting exceptional arts experiences and connecting them to the UNC community and beyond. Established in 2005 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, CPA presents the very best from the full spectrum of the performing arts: internationally renowned recitalists and orchestras, chamber ensembles, jazz, folk, and world music artists, dance and theater. CPA strives to nurture artistic innovation and the development of new works on and off campus; to challenge and inspire audiences with powerful and transformative performances; and to integrate the arts into the life of the University, embracing its mission of teaching, research and public service.

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