Saturday, November 12, 2016

Jonah Bokaer's big wave hits Next Wave

Scenes from Rules of the Game
(photo: Sharen Bradford)

What eye-popping, impulsive joy Jonah Bokaer brings to a stage--every inch, edge and corner of it. He's got a fantastic crew of dancers who, if they haven't exactly absorbed his exalted degree of exquisiteness as a performer, more than make up for it in agility, stamina and adventurousness. He has, in longtime collaborating scenographer Daniel Arsham, a fellow artist with a keen sense of that dream-like place where bold, luscious imagery overlaps with anxiety and menace. In a new ensemble work, Rules of the Game, he's joined by Grammy-winning hit-maker Pharrell Williams (original score) and arranger/co-composer David Campbell for rousing, viscerally affecting sound that straddles and destroys borders between pop and symphonic, cinema-like orchestration. Nino Rota might have dug it.

The season, part of BAM's Next Wave Festival also includes a couple of notable head trips from repertory. There's RECESS (2010), the signature solo in which Bokaer's body, clad in jet black, disturbs, romps with and brazenly "writes" its way across a massive unrolling sheet of white paper. In Why Patterns (2011), Bokaer's dancers share a marked-off square of space with thousands of hyperactive ping-pong balls. The program--one hour and 45 minutes with intermission--might be the most visually clever, stimulating event I've seen this season.

Rules of the Game fields eight players in dusty-pink hoodies with Spalding basketballs in a game that, over time, gets less abstractly playful--less civilized--and more personal in its tension and viciousness. It's backed by a video showing the rise, fall and frequent slow-motion shattering of oversized plaster casts of basketballs and statue heads. The effects behind the stage, as on it, can be startling, often unnerving, but unfortunately repeat themselves beyond reason. No sooner does a possible ending of the piece subside than new action starts up on the stage with a new round of rising, falling, shattering behind it.

Visionary Bokaer and his team make impressive, appealing theater magic. They truly rock. But there comes a point, in each work, where you question why the excess needs further elaboration and where all of this is meant to take us.

Performances by Wendell Gray II, Laura Gutierrez, James Koroni, Callie Lyons, James McGinn, Szabo Pataki, Sara Procopio and Betti Rollo

Rules of the Game concludes tonight with a performance at 7:30pm. The program runs 1h 45 min with intermission. For information and tickets, click here.

BAM Howard Gilman Opera House
Peter Sharp Building
30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn

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