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Flash Review 1, 7-10: RunningitoutLyndon
Pilobolus Dancers Strike Perfect Balance on Unbalanced Program; Mirra Bank's View to a Pil

By Darrah Carr
Copyright 2002 Darrah Carr

NEW YORK -- After 31 years, Pilobolus is not content to simply demonstrate what is possible. It seems the company continually asks what isn't possible, then sets out to prove that it can be done. Its philosophy of experimentation leads to exciting, innovative partnering, which, in turn, leads to clever, accessible modern dance. Unfortunately, the troupe was not equally clever when choosing the order of Program A for its summer season at the Joyce Theater. Program order may seem unimportant compared to the strength of each individual piece, but it inevitably shapes an audience's experience of the evening and influences the memory of it afterward. This is especially true in the case of a company like Pilobolus, particularly on a program with four pieces of a similar, signature style.

The performance seen June 28 opened with two classic Pilobolus pieces from the 1970s, "Untitled" (1975) and "Walklyndon" (1971). Both are lighthearted, comic works that demand incredible strength from the cast. "Untitled" has a charming Alice in Wonderland quality about it. Renee Jaworski and Jennifer Macavinta grow or shrink at a moment's notice, depending on whether their partners are hiding beneath their billowing Victorian skirts and hoisting them above their heads or not. Walklyndon is a series of humorous stage crossings that mix pedestrian gesture with wacky partnering. Dancers cling to each other, step on one another, and roll onstage and off while linked together. Matt Kent displays incredible physical prowess as a human seesaw. He balances on his hands as fellow dancers push his legs up or down.

After intermission came "Symbiosis" (2001). A stunning duet, it was choreographed by Michael Tracy in collaboration with Otis Cook and Renee Jaworski, the dancers who also perform it. Their input is evident in the work, for it seems the movement was tailor-made for these two bodies. The choreography unfolds seamlessly, with each lift revealing itself to be more breathtaking than the last. At one point, Jaworski rolls up Cook's body, assisted by one tenacious handhold. It is gravity reversed.

"Symbiosis" would be a hard act to follow in any context. But, finishing the evening with yet another lighthearted, comedic piece was a poor choice. The Brass Ring (2002), also choreographed by Tracy in collaboration with the dancers, was done a disservice by being placed last. Where "Symbiosis" was pared down and essential, the Brass Ring felt lengthy and frivolous. Perhaps it was a fault of the piece itself, but it seemed equally a fault of the program order. By dance number four, the trademark Pilobolus partnering seemed like circus tricks, indistinguishable from and less magical than what had come before. The piece is also extremely dense. A busy, acrobatic quartet downstage competes with an equally frenetic, athletic duet upstage. Moments of unison are a relief to the constant split focus.

Angelina Avallone's florescent, multi-colored unitards add to the stimuli. They reference human anatomy, but also suggest feathers and wingspans of super-hero fancy. The end section features a starry, galactic backdrop. When paired with Avallone's otherwordly unitards, there is no image more befitting Pilobolus dancers with their super-hero strength and unbelievably effortless physicality.

Unlike Program A, a new documentary about Pilobolus, "Last Dance," definitely takes the viewer into account in creating a balanced program. Directed by Mirra Bank, the film opens July 12 at New York's Quad Cinema. Bank spent over a year with Pilobolus and renowned author-illustrator Maurice Sendak, recording their collaboration on the 1999 dance-theater piece, "A Selection." Unafraid to show both the good and bad sides of collaboration, Bank blends volatile confrontations between Sendak and one of the Pilobolus directors, Jonathan Wolken, with humorous moments of play during the rehearsal process, and brilliant scenes from performance. "Last Dance" is thorough without being ponderous and includes interviews with each of the dancers, as well as details such as costume fittings, backstage shots, and publicity photo shoots. It is a privilege to catch a glimpse of Pilobolus's fascinating experimental rehearsal process, and even more interesting to see how the group must adapt its process when working with an author who is more narratively oriented. The artists' aesthetic tug of war becomes more charged, because their subject, the Holocaust, is such a momentous, serious matter. "Last Dance" is smart and touching, a must-see for dance lovers and a should-see for non-dancers, too!

Pilobolus runs through July 20 at the Joyce Theater. "Last Dance" opens July 12 at New York's Quad Cinema.

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