Meet The Bright, Shiny Future Of Dance



1_JonahBokaer01_135Photographed by Winnie Au
"I describe my work as ‘tunneling through media,'" says choreographer Jonah Bokaer, with media broadly defined as dance, video, drawing, animation, technology — you name it. The impossibly fit New York native excels at navigating traditional venues (his dances have been performed at the New Museum, MoMA PS1, and the Guggenheim, among others), but also it's expanding into uncharted waters. Last year, he helped create (and danced for) an iPad app, Fifth Wall, which makes the viewer feel like a gravity-defying Bokaer is dancing and sliding along the edge of the Apple device. He’s also taken father-son bonding to new heights with the spring production of The Ulysses Syndrome, which he performed with his 71-year-old father.

Bokaer always seemed a natural. At the age of 18, he became the youngest dancer ever to work with Merce Cunningham and did so while simultaneously studying visual and media studies at The New School, where he honed his animation skills — an invaluable trait for eye-popping choreography. A frequent collaborator with the artist Daniel Arsham (a fellow R29 Visionary), whom he compares to a brother, Bokaer’s passion project is to make choreography more accessible for everyone. Enter Chez Bushwick, his nonprofit focused on arts advocacy, and the Center for Performance Research (housed in the Brooklyn’s first LEED-gold building), cofounded by Bokaer and John Jasperse as an affordable space to support contemporary dance. His advice to acrobatic acolytes is "keep inventing, imagining, and presenting dance in new ways — and in your own ways." Read below to see how he’s bringing those new ways to 21st-century audiences everywhere.
2_JonahBokaer01_226Photographed by Winnie Au

First Position
"I like to think of myself as an accident: some combination of the theatrical, filmic, and physical gifts from my parents and grandparents. My father was a filmmaker and screenwriter born in Tunisia, whose father was a champion gymnast in his native country. My mother is a second-generation theater director (born in the United States with Scottish/Welsh heritage), whose father was a prolific American director, Arthur Lithgow. Something about my parents gave our six siblings a sense of humanity and fearlessness. I think having parents from two different cultures was very pivotal: It taught me that making artwork and taking social action are inseparable."

Take the Lead
"Instead of a 'dance company,' we have four modes of working: solos, group choreographies (usually one to eight people), film or media works, opera (or let’s just say big, special projects). I could be wrong, but I definitely think this is different than how others are working today. It happens across different channels and requires different ideas about dance production. What inspires me most is the artist who goes back to zero, square one, every time, with the willingness to recreate their system all over again."

The Jurassic Diet
"Directors of a modern-dance company once advised me to lose weight. Which is fine — it was their company, they governed how they wished. But I also think dance companies are sort of a Jurassic creation. You could spend money preserving fossils, too, I suppose...but actually, fossils get better funding than dance companies."

Home on the Range
"There is one incredible secret to the work, which is the range of dancers. They are my heroes. They are not "diverse" in the unusual grant-proposal way, but look deeper: They hail from Taiwan, Israel, Croatia, U.K., now even Iceland and Canada. They're the reason to show up. Actually, maybe watching performers is my guilty pleasure. It's heaven."

Save the Last Dance
"I'm very thankful to be able to expand each year, continue developing, and keep inspiring others. Staying humble yet very driven is the best way to think about the future. The future holds lots of fun, lots of trouble, and lots of history...I hope people will sign on early enough to enjoy all three."

For more in-depth interviews with inspiring visionaries, click here.