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1, 6-27: The Demon's in the Details
Old Routines, No Lessons in Pilobolus Program B
By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2002 Maura Nguyen Donohue
NEW YORK -- If Pilobolus is in town,
then it must be summer. Each late June to late July the Connecticut-based troupe,
distinctive for its four -- count 'em four -- artistic directors, settles in for
a month-long, multiple-program run at the Joyce. Last night the company opened
a very uneven Program B consisting of "The Four Humours," a New York premiere
by Robby Barnett and Jonathan Wolken, and two works from last year: "Davenen,"
also by Barnett and Wolken, and "Monkey and the White Bone Demon" by Alison Chase.
When one considers that Pilobolus
works are created in collaboration with the dancers originating the roles, it's
notable that half of the company has left since last year's season. Three of the
six dancers in the company are new. The divine Benjamin Pring left for what may
at times seem like the obvious next step for a Pilobolus alum -- le cirque. Gaspard
Louis and Josie Coyoc are definitely spirits missed, though Jennifer Macavinta
does prove a fair and fiery replacement for Coyoc in "Davenen."
Starting an evening with two Barnett/Wolken
works in a row wasn't the best programming choice. Both "The Four Humours" and
"Davenen" have been covered here by Tom
Patrick and Alicia
Mosier, respectively. Though their reviews maintain a much more positive
response, my sense is that this is close to an hour of stereotypical Pilobolus
fare. Unfortunately, this program provides fodder to an argument of "if you've
seen one you've seen 'em all." Though the company boasts operating outside the
system of "codified dance vocabulary," it isn't always saved from the cliches
of some of its own 31-year-old choreographic formulas. There are only so many
times I can watch two to six people engage in the trademark weight-shifting, moving-as-one-in-a-circular-path
sequences that show up repeatedly in both Barnett/Wolken works. I try to find
a deeper emotional meaning in the movement when in "The Four Humours" these exchanges
are presented several times with differing energies, not to mention with alternating
mugging and pouting from the performers, but in the end it's just the gimmick.
And worse still, it's a gimmick that shows up again and again in the next work.
But really, I came for the Monkey
King piece. Having performed parts of the famous "Journey to the West" with a
proper Beijing Opera ex-pat and seen many a variation on the the tale, I was curious
what one of my favorite dance companies (of times past) would do with the tale.
Now if this had been the family matinee, I'd say it was a jolly, good romp. Ras
Mikey C twirls around his Kung Fu-inspired pole with ease as Monkey. Matt Kent
hams it up as the Demon and provides a rock-solid performance on 3-foot stilts,
handling the athleticism and partnering with noted strength and dexterity. But
it wasn't family night and the work was silly and shallow. I couldn't help but
wonder, Why this part of the pilgrimage? In fact, why delve into this beloved,
profound mythology of how Buddhism came to China at all? The message included
in the three-paragraph program notes isn't present in the physical tale, so this
storybook work relies heavily on play-acting without even allowing Otis Cook's
Monk his lesson.
(Editor's Note: Pilobolus continues at the Joyce Theater through July 20, with
three programs. For more information, please visit the Joyce
web site .)
Maura Nguyen Donohue is a New York City-based choreographer and writer. Please
web site for more info.
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