A work of weird and awkwardly tender intimacies, choreographer Jonah Bokaer ’s “Replica” was presented to a sold-out audience of 100 on Wednesday by the Performing Arts Series of Johnson County Community College at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, the first collaboration for these institutions.
Bokaer, recently named a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellow in Choreography, creates and performs works for museums and nontraditional spaces internationally.
The dancers — Laura Gutierrez and Szabi Pataki — performed the 60-minute work, which coalesced emotional ambiguity with gestural clarity, with sequences defined by touch and body pressure. To each other, their expressions read curious recognition, though they addressed the audience with muted faces.
They performed in front of and within an outsized, white two-sided structure designed by Daniel Arsham, the amoeba-like design of the prefabricated holes revealing craggy strata. Even though there was no deceptive transition to hide the performer going behind the structure, it was surprising and explosive when she punched through the wall.
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Alexis Georgopoulos/ARP’s electronic music defined the work’s segments with synthetic swells and beady thumps that punctuated silences.
“Replica” has incorporated video projections, spatial elements, lighting sources, and architecture throughout its past iterations. These performances addressed challenges with each site, and this presentation faced challenges, too, taking place in the tall, narrow space of the Nerman’s Galamba Gallery, the performance area flanked by the stairwell wall and a two-story bank of windows, the blinds drawn. The seating was 10 straight rows of chairs, 10 abreast for floor-level staging. These logistics created a viewing experience in which much of the audience couldn’t see a portion of the dancers’ movement (all floor work and anything below shoulder level in some cases).
To this reviewer, standing at the rear in line with the dancers’ focal point, the audience itself became part of the experience, as members tilted their heads to catch a glimpse of the action, popped out of their seats or leaned forward as the movement traveled beyond their comfortable sight lines. Many migrated swiftly to line the side wall of the space, climbing the steps for a better view. Some left altogether, frustrated.
Those who stayed, though, were rewarded with moments of intrepid creativity, of shock and beauty. Partway through, in a powerful moment of stillness, the blinds were raised, admitting the slanted rays of sunset and a backdrop of violet clouds, recasting the lighting source as the work concluded in twilight.
A performance of Bokaer’s “Recess” and “Why Patterns” will be at 8 p.m. Friday in the Carlsen Center’s Polsky Theatre