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Flash Review 2, 6-29: Hanging
Descending with Pilobolus

By Angela Jones
Copyright 2004 Angela Jones

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NEW YORK -- Pilobolus reigns again. Its latest lineup of dancers and new work, on view at the Joyce through July 17, truly exhibits the strength, technical skill, and theatricality that originally made the company popular.

I was pleasantly surprised right from the beginning of Thursday's opening performance of Program B, Michael Tracy's 2002 "The Brass Ring," which I had not yet seen. Although it started out in serious dramatic Olympian fashion, the piece slipped easily into being downright silly and the transitions, though they were sudden and unexpected, were not jarring or inappropriate. Though the work had no particular dramatic direction, it nonetheless had a clear sense of cadence, theme and variation. It seemed the most unapologetically and delightfully Pilobolean piece on the program.

Alison Chase's new narrative work "Night of the Dark Moon," created like all Pilobolus dances in collaboration with the dancers, retold the once again popular Orpheus tale. The press release seemed to imply that the piece treated the myth in a new way by casting Death as seductress. In reality, Jean Cocteau did that version in 1949, even down to the rubber gloves (which, as an interesting side note, he used to protect actors from mercury and Pilobolus used to protect dancers from rope burns). However, unlike in Cocteau's "Orpheus," Pilobolus's Death character had no subtle mysterious sexuality, and it was unclear if and why she managed to seduce Orpheus at all. The images Chase and her performers were able to conjure both in the air and through partnering were particularly striking. The only problem was that the transitions into and out of the fabric hammock that was pulleyed up and down seemed contrived and awkward. Though beautiful, I wasn't sure if the images were worth the trouble they seemed to cause. Then again, as a professional aerialist, my bias creeps in if I sense that anyone is using aerial work as a gimmick in any way. But to the company's credit, the piece was always engaging and it remained true to itself enough to keep my interest from start to finish.

Chase's "Ben's Admonition" was another "aerial" work that began with two men hanging almost stuck together from one point with two straps attached, though this time the apparatus itself and also as a dramatic device was more clear and simple. The emotions ranged from aggression to camaraderie to indifference. Basically, it was living in a studio apartment with a roommate in NYC; love and claustrophobia. I was frankly relieved when one of the guys got to move out and get his own place, breathe and enjoy his independence (probably just entering his 30s) and then I read the program notes. Apparently, Ben Franklin admonished Congress, "If we don't hang together, we will surely hang separately." Hence the title "Ben's Admonition." The enforced interpretation closed up the piece for me, making it seem much cheesier and simplistic than the movement actually was.

The program ended with the old standby "Day Two," which though beautiful to watch as ever did seem rather dated and less interesting than much of the rest of the program, which of course, is exactly how it should be when a group is truly moving forward.

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