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Flash Review 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 visit her web site for more info.

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