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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 22, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 21
Pilobolus presents a hugely satisfying program
Arts & Entertainment
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Pilobolus presents a hugely satisfying program

by Sharon Cumberland - SGN A&E Writer

UW WORLD DANCE SERIES
PILOBOLUS
MEANY HALL
May 14-16


A wonderfully rich program of five dances and four short films were offered by the Pilobolus dance group during the UW World Dance Series this past week - their fifth visit to Seattle since 2001. Pilobolus has always been the by-word for innovative, strength-base [***change to strength-based] dance with a strong streak of humor and whimsy - not surprising in a group founded by Dartmouth College students in 1971. Pilobolus has been hugely popular for over four decades, offering more than 100 new works developed in their uniquely collaborative style and performed to enthralled audiences the world over.

And though I've seen and loved all of their Seattle performances in the past thirteen years, I've never been so deeply engaged and fascinated by their work as I was this past week. Pilobolus seems to have reached a new level of inspiration and performance practice that I haven't previously associated with their aesthetic of using their bodies to create sculptural shapes. The dances we saw at the sold-out opening night I attended were more ambitious and deeply conceived than dances I remember from the past, and the dancers revealed a profound commitment to sustained movements that captured the imagination of their viewers.

Indeed, after seeing the first dance of the evening, 'On the Nature of Things,' my subscription buddy of sixteen years turned to me and said 'That's the best dance I've ever seen here!' Then she went further: 'That may be the best dance I've ever seen in my life.' And as much as I revere certain choreographers and particular dances, none of which have been works by Pilobolus, I have to agree that 'On the Nature of Things' may be one of the best dances I have ever seen. No kidding. It's flat-out brilliant. It's now in my pantheon of great works alongside Mark Morris' 'L'Allegro, Il Penseroso, ed Il Moderato,' and Balanchine's 'Apollo.'



'On the Nature of Things' was performed by two men (Sean Fitzgerald Ahern, Mike Tyus) and one woman (Jordan Kriston) almost entirely on a circular plinth about three feet off the ground and three feet in diameter. Costumed only in their powerful muscles with the skimpiest of dance belts, the dancers looked - purposefully, I believe - like Greek or Roman gods who moved seamlessly through interactive poses that grew increasingly complex and intricate. Sometimes shapes emerged that brought to mind specific classical statues, such as Bernini's 'Daphnis and Apollo,' or the Laocoön Group, and other times the flow of bodies appeared to be working through the entire range of human movement and emotion, testing the limits of the platform on which they stood and the laws of gravity as they dipped or dangled over the edge, leaned precariously away from each other into space, or crowded in circular movements around one another as if confined by an invisible tube. All of these movements required heroic strength yet were executed elegantly to the stately strains of Vivaldi, enlarged by contemporary composers Michelle DiBucci and Edward Bilous. The effect of this sinuous dance on the observer was one of increasing wonder, as if there were no upper limits on awe. We began by admiring their beautiful, powerful bodies, then progressed to amazement, finally ending in that place beyond words where you enter into the experience as an emotional observer/partner.

I have always wished, when seeing powerful athlete/dancers such as Daren Bersuk in 2014's 'Men in Dance' and other Cirque du Soleil-style dancers who perform their gymnastic feats on rigid poles to the sounds of heavy metal, that they would find a way to transition power movement (iron cross, horizontal pike) to more thoughtful, elevated dance forms. Pilobolus has granted my wish in this marvelous, absorbing dance that requires all the power of gymnastics (one of the dancers, Mike Tyus, is actually a Cirque du Soleil graduate) but with all the grace, beauty and intensity that characterizes the best in choreography. I love to see theatrical and street dance evolve into new forms, especially for modern dance and classical audiences.

'On the Nature of Things' was only the first of five dances in this terrific evening. My second favorite work was the final dance, 'Sweet Purgatory' (1991) performed to Shostakovich's 'Chamber Symphony, Op. 110a.' Six dancers work through every permutation of a star possible, whether a single spread-eagle dancer being rotated in the air by another dancer, a team of dancers spiraling across the stage in the split-leg formation of a binary star, or an explosive array of jumps that suggest the Big Bang. This work did what modern dance at its best always does: it brought new realms of meaning to a composer's work.

Another great aspect of this evening was the smooth integration of short films to transition the stage from one dance to the next. I think this is an inspired way to showcase the works of visual artists and to prepare the audience thematically for the dance that follows. The first film, 'Pilobolus is a fungus' by editors Oriel Pe'er and Paula Salhany, used documentary film clips of insect and human x-rays to construct an animal-kingdom view of movement that resonates with the Pilobolus dancers. The second film, 'Wind,' an animation directed by Robert Löbel, brought us into a universe that adapted its movements to constant wind, only to discover that a machine under the ground, rather than Mother Nature, was responsible. This related to the mechanistic theme of 'All is Not Lost' (2011) in which dancers create on a platform effects that are projected at 90° onto a screen, and, later, to 'Automaton' (2012) in which a robot factory produces man-machines that slowly become organic. My favorite film of the evening was 'Cirrus' by editor Cyriak to a score by Bono, in which advertising images from the 1950s are cut into animations of a consumer universe of comical and gigantic force. The final film, 'Danielle' by Anthony Cerniello, appeared at first to be a long, boring look into the face of an attractive young woman - maybe to see if she would blink? But as your interest waned and you looked away, then looked back again, her face had aged slightly, then a little more, until you were looking in the face of the exact same woman who had aged sixty years imperceptibly in a four minute film. It was weird. It was clever. It was awesome - just like Pilobolus in this hugely satisfying program.

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