Created in 1979 for three performers Ball Passing was an immediate critical and popular success. It is widely considered a masterpiece of post-modern dance and has been performed by teams of 9, 18, 25, 36 48 and 60 performers – many of whom had no previous performing experience. As Ball Passing has grown in stature and visibility, so has an awareness that the value of the work transcends “art for art’s sake”. Ball Passing participants learn relational and social tools that are deeply engrained in human nature but that we do not often experience in western culture. The will to cooperate – to work together to accomplish a goal that is larger than the sum of our individual efforts defines our humanness as much as competition or conflict. This ‘cooperative impulse’ is at the core of Ball Passing and is particularly relevant in our fragmented socio-economic environment.
Ball Passing is grounded in the basic act of passing a ball from one person to the next. Teams of participants, organized in groups of three, stand in rows on bleachers and pass brightly colored 4″ nerf balls, creating complex visual and temporal patterns. The action of passing a ball is extremely simple, yet the organization of the work – the rhythmic patterns and physical configurations – are exceedingly complex. Ball Passing is a game that we can only be successful at when all participants commit to profound cooperation and communication.
Because of the speed and complexity involved “mistakes” are inevitable. Dropped balls are part of the game. Recovery from ‘mistakes’ is a constant challenge and performers need to be on their toes to find solutions ‘on the fly’. Ball Passing is a constant struggle between entropy and organization—a conundrum that can only be solved by all participants working as one integrated unit.
The visual complexity, the rhythmic shifting of patterns, the surprise of dropped balls and the delight of recovery all serve to bring the audience into the game. Ball Passing is a community spectacle that has the ability to create—for performers and audience alike—a greater sense of connection and belonging.