With paper and ping-pong balls, Bokaer makes magic

By Janine Parker
Globe Correspondent / August 6, 2011

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BECKET - We all come from somewhere, and the young choreographer and dancer Jonah Bokaer belongs to a spectacular lineage. He danced for Merce Cunningham, who danced for Martha Graham, who danced for Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. In interviews, Bokaer is often in the position of parsing the differences between, say, randomness (a Cunningham hallmark) and unpredictability (an area of exploration for Bokaer).

And there’s a difference between influence and derivation. The two works Bokaer is presenting at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival show his work as his own. If we see inflections of Cunningham, well, it’s all in the family.

Bokaer’s dance “RECESS,’’ like the word, could be a child’s brief escape into play or a shadowy place of secrets. The piece begins with Bokaer unrolling a large roll of paper with a parallel frappé to the front, side, or back, turning a quarter of the way around, over and over. His face is concentrated, his posture solemnly erect. Ritualism teeters between repetition and compulsion. Sometimes he heel-toes around the perimeter of the roll, as if he’s measuring something - or trying not to fall off a tightrope.

Bokaer’s movements have a metronomic quality to them, but his progress is wonderfully suspenseful. He turns, punches, parachutes, and ultimately splits the paper, one part of which then seems to take on a life of its own. It crumples itself up, it sidles, it creeps. Sometimes it almost thunders with the sound of its gyrations, sometimes it vulnerably sinks into itself.

Is the unseen force a ghost? Bokaer’s subconscious? Though we know all along that the designer Daniel Arsham is under there, in the moment it’s magic.

If “RECESS’’ is at first glance a solo but is really a trio - Bokaer, the paper, the force - then “Why Patterns’’ should properly be called a quartet plus 10,000. Dancers CC Chang, James McGinn, Irena Misirlic, and Adam H. Weinert - like Bokaer, strong movers - ultimately share the stage with thousands of ping-pong balls, which are tossed from the wings, or cascade from above, or drip from long white pipes that border the stage.

Bokaer, through dance and games, uses Morton Feldman’s composition of the same name to further explore Feldman’s questioning of procedures and patterns. “Why Patterns’’ is strange and dreamy, usually absorbing, if occasionally a wee bit tedious. After the show a stranger asked me, grumpily, what it was about. Why ask? It was beautiful, sometimes even transcendent. Isn’t that enough?

Janine Parker can be reached at

JONAH BOKAER At: Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Becket, Thursday (through tomorrow). Tickets: $22-$36. 413-243-0745,