What Do Ping Pong Balls and Crumpled Paper Have in Common? Famed New York choreographer Jonah Bokaer was here.

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Photo courtesy of ADI.

About a minute into a performance by contemporary choreographer Jonah Bokaer, it is clear his aesthetic is not just about performing but also visual arts. Bokaer was hosted by the American Dance Institute in Rockville where two of his most notable pieces were performed last Friday and Saturday.

The performance began with “Recess,” a minimalist solo number. “I fit Recess to the space it’s being performed in, so it’s different nearly almost every time,” Bokaer says of the conceptual piece.

“Recess,” set to the bass-heavy atmospheric sounds of Starvros Gasparatos, starts with a lone dancer (Jonah Bokaer) in all black on stage. The dancer is confronted with a large roll of white paper, which stands stark against the black backdrop of venue and dancer, and begins to interact with it: Pulling, crumpling, ripping and dancing with the pieces. Logistically, it’s an impressive feat—the dancer must be able to improvise with however the paper rips or crumples. And before the dance’s end, the paper comes to life. “People thought it was a bit too conceptual when it originally debuted,” Bokaer says.

The piece has evolved since its original conception as a commission in 2010. At the Friday performance (the one I attended), the audience was on the edge of their seats, enthralled.

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Photo courtesy of ADI.

The second, more light-hearted number, “Why Patterns,” begins with one dancer toying with a ping pong ball. Then, she passes it off to another and he passes it off again, till the dance eventually evolves into four dancers navigating a sea of ping pong balls that fall from the rafters—props are a Bokaer staple. He also employs dynamic sets and complex lighting design—Bokaer thinks of everything. For “Recess,” the stage was dark, the lights sterile and low to the stage. For “Why Patterns,” the lights were warmer and the stage housed a square made of clear tubes filled with ping pong balls. Bokaer’s dancers are tasked to interact with their environment and the props, as well as each other, making, as he says, “patterns we see every day. I think it all represents the randomness we experience day to day.”

The end result makes for compelling viewing. “Why Patterns” and “Recess” are moving on, this time to Kansas. But, in early summer Bokaer’s “Rules of the Game,” with an original score by Pharrell Williams, makes its world premiere—let’s just hope he brings it back to Maryland.

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