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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
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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