writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, New York edition

Don't Trust Anyone Over 30

The Brass Ring, Night of the Dark Moon, Ben's Admonition, and Day Two
(Program B)
The Joyce Theater
June 23, 2004

by Nancy Dalva
copyright © 2004 by Nancy  Dalva
published June 28, 2004

Moses Pendleton, the primus inter pares Pilobolus founder, once told me that he thought nudity was much less obscene than a skin colored leotard. He also uttered the interesting phrase, when some event or other failed to materialize, "There's always the body." By which he meant his body, the occupation of first and last resort in an art without technique. (He later put on some clothes and got much more conceptual, but that's his story, not the story of Pilobolus.)

While Pilobolus was invented by Pendleton and two other Dartmouth gentleman jocks in year 1971, it was about three years later that the collective really coalesced, with personnel that were to morph it from antic commune to brand name to a franchise with a host of spin-offs. Thus the company is arguably now 30, that age we once all found so suspect. There are only two vintage works programmed for their summer month at the Joyce Theater, an annual affair.

Day Two is 24 years old. It is a primordial ritual, and takes place--although the stage is bare—outdoors, in a saturated world. As I recall, and I may have the details muddy, it was group choreographed in Washington, Connecticut, during rain of biblical proportion. On the second day, everyone ran around outdoors in the nude. Squish! Ooze! Merge! The most exciting part of the dance is now the pelting sound score that is played before the curtain goes up. It quickens the pulse.

But the dance does not. As performed now, Day Two is a perfect example of simulation: it has the moves of the original, but none of the conviction. The people who first danced it were, after all, doing their own thing, or things; they had made the work. This is not to fault the current troupe of six, but they are clearly doing someone else's thing. Thus even their almost nudity (they wear skanky nylon briefs as a concession to community standards) is a kind of costume.

The three other numbers on the bill were versions of other Pilobolus standards. The Brass Ring (2002), by Michael Tracy in collaboration with the original cast, is the group frolic to arty upbeat music (including Scott Joplin), until lapsing at the end into romance (Fauré). It is vaguely reminiscent of Paul Taylor's Big Bertha, without the content.

The other two pieces are the brain children of founding mother Alison Chase, working in collaboration with her original casts. (In other words, once these dances are made, however communally, they're done, and everyone else, whoever dances them, does it the same way.) Ben's Admonition was titled by the winner of a "name this dance" contest, who was referring to Benjamin Franklin's warning to the Continental Congress, "If we don't hang together, we will surely hang separately." It is apt, for the work involves pendant performers. That is, two very buff bare chested, army green-trousered, combat-booted guys achieve ballon via dangling black loops that look like circus equipment, but also like manacles. Hanging from their wrists, they can escape gravity, and perform a kind of aerial copueira. (Unfortunately for the piece, manacles, combat boots, and army garb are no longer generic signifiers, but, in combination, grimly specific reminders.)

The other item was the world premiere, by Chase in collaboration with the entire current company: Mark Fucik, Renée Jaworski, Andrew Herro, Janniefer Macavinta, Manelick Minniefee, and Matthew Thornton, in Night of the Dark Moon. The program says three of them performed, but I was pretty sure I saw four people. It's possible I was hallucinating, though, because it's that kind of work. Surrealish, if one can use such a term, it arouses a suspicion that it is based on a short work of South American magic realism one ought to have read, but hasn't. It is, in fact, purportedly a retelling of the Orpheus legend, but you could have fooled me. In brief: A woman in red evening dress, whose face is concealed by black veiling, is slung up in the sky in a white fabric sling representing the moon; she interacts with a couple in Brazilian party dress; meanwhile, two towering Goths in tight pants, studded Victorian great coats and very high heeled t-straps serve a mysterious purpose. The interest—that is, the interest it takes in itself—is in eerie pictural composition. There is stage smoke. Or fog.

Pilobolus once was all about the body, and the pleasure of being in the body. The choreography was a matter of gymnastics, various plays on the principal of the lever and some ado about props. (The production values were excellent. Kind of like Alwin Nikolai, but with sex.) Everything was made communally, as some works are still, but a commune where one communard is old enough to be everyone else's father or mother is not the same as a commune where everyone skinny dips because no one's father or mother is around. From the evidence of the second program of this season, today their visual theater looks like Robert Wilson Lite, and their visceral theater, for all the capable aplomb of the performers, is pale. Pilobolus started out as granola, and ended up as berry-flavored Special K.

[The company will be at the Joyce Theater, with four alternating programs, through July 17, 2004.]

Photo:  Position to Celebrate.

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 23
June 28, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by Nancy Dalva



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