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Flash Review 1, 7-27: Megaprogrammed < Full Strength
Pilobolus Fails with Flying Colors

By Darrah Carr
Copyright 2005 Darrah Carr

NEW YORK -- For its annual summer season at New York's Joyce Theater, Pilobolus Dance Theatre tried something new: the rotation of three distinct programs based on a single theme. Depending on the night, audiences caught "Megawatt > Full Strength" (the company's first evening-length work), "Pilobolus: Aquatic," or "Pilobolus: Suspended." Judging from "Suspended," which this critic saw July 19, the fungi's foray into thematic programming is a clever marketing ploy, a tightly rehearsed machine, and, unfortunately, a terrible bore.

"Suspended," a program whose name unimaginatively speaks for itself, features five aerial works, all choreographed by one of the company's four artistic directors, Alison Chase, in collaboration with the dancers on whom they were created. (Ras Mikey C, Otis Cook, Rebecca Darling, Mark Fucik, Andrew Herro, Renee Jaworski, Matt Kent, Gaspard Louis, Jennifer Macavinta, Jenny Mendez, Manelich Minniefee, Benjamin Pring, and Matthew Thornton.) By the fifth piece, my initial excitement at reviewing one of the dance world's most popular companies, not to mention one of my personal favorites, had dwindled to a restless impatience. For all of its dancers' acrobatic skill and their incredible blend of strength and flexibility, Pilobolus is not Cirque du Soleil. After one, two, or even three pieces, I longed to see the performers abandon their "circus silks" and jump, turn, fall, and... well, dance.

To be fair, each of the works might have fared better had they been viewed on separate evenings. The opener, "Star-Crossed," was a touching, gentle entanglement of ropes and limbs, while "Bugonia," receiving its New York premiere this season, was a playful, colorfully-lit mating duet. Nevertheless, when presented in tandem, Chase's aerial works seemed too similar to one another. I began to wonder if the directors of this storied company are perhaps trapped by the popularity of their own design. With four choreographers as leaders, whose history spans three decades, audiences have grown accustomed to seeing Pilobolus programs that offer a breadth of creative vision. A thematically linked program is not necessary to carry or interpret their impressive joint repertory. Pilobolus is immensely popular because the company's work is already accessible, easy to understand, and waiting to be enjoyed.

In contrast to the aerial works on this program (which were all created by Chase, with the dancers' collaboration, during the last five years), "Walklyndon," a Pilobolus classic from 1971 choreographed by Robby Barnett, Lee Harris, Moses Pendleton, and Jonathan Wolken, seemed startlingly fresh and funny. Having nothing to do with flying, and everything to do with walking, running, and playfully bumping into one another, "Walklyndon" was added to the program July 19 apparently for the cameo appearance by Joyce SoHo benefit auction winner Carolyn Forsman. A nice gesture on the company's part and an important lesson in return: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

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