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Flash Review 1, 6-17:
Pilobolus's Misogynist Spidey Sense
By Byron Woods
Copyright 2000 Byron Woods
DURHAM, NC -- It's not
the first time that spiders have wound up in a dance. The tarantella,
that literal Italian dance craze of the 15th century, originated
from a belief that its moves cured the venomous bite of the tarantula.
Nineteenth-century heartthrob Lola Montez achieved notoriety through
her signature "Spider Dance," while Leo Staats's "The Spider's Feast"
won Parisian hearts in 1913.
But "Tantra Aranea,"
Robby Barnett and Jonathan Wolken's erotically charged new duet
for Pilobolus Dance Theater, uses the mating behaviors of orb-weaving
spiders as the unlikely lens for revisioning elements of Hindu spiritual
practice and Japanese mythology.
Stay with us here. In
this new American Dance Festival commission, which premiered in
North Carolina on Thursday night at Page Auditorium, Pilobolus once
again looks to the natural realm for insights on the human condition.
Of course, there's nothing remotely new in that: Over the centuries,
agenda-laden readings of the natural world have been used to justify
a number of curious institutions.
But it is telling --
and disappointing -- that where the original Hindu chroniclers of
Shiva and Shakti's greatest hits envisioned transcendence through
sexual union in the Kama Sutra, Barnett and Wolken's arachnophilic
take on that text ultimately finds one thing: the very high price
That is, if you're a
"Tantra Aranea" invokes
that tired canard, the monstrous feminine, in a world where men
can't trust women or sexuality. Why? Because maneaters only decloset
How useful. And how very
The result negates the
Indian sacred text, in what at points seems an unintentional exploration
of male erotophobia.
Though both Angelina
Avallone's costume for dancer Josie Coyoc and the initial moments
of Anwar Brahim's guitar accompaniment seem almost Castillian, the
physical dialects here soon place matters in the sub-continent.
The gracefully beckoning
hand gestures in Matt Kent's initial entreaties to Coyoc seem directly
taken from sacred Indian paintings of the idealized god and lover,
Krishna. The resulting love-play of the two is tantric and sexually
frank; a vivid, libidinous, steamy celebration of heterosexual pursuit,
capture and imaginative physical recombinations.
But the briefest of fates
awaits the male after sexual union in the spider world. Here it's
not Shakti the consort who mates with the love god -- it's Kali,
the destroyer, who is rarely met without cost.
Kent and Coyoc arouse
us, first with playfulness and then with passion, as Barnett and
Wolken give the pleasures of the flesh their full moment in arresting
But Nirvana's price is
steep in this natural -- but less than perfect -- world. And the
endgame of "Tantra Aranea" leaves entirely open the question of
its worth -- along with the choreographers' attitudes towards women.
We'll warrant that the
recombination of Hindu myth with amateur arachnology is novel enough.
But the end result here -- soft-core porn, tastefully served, with
a misogynous twist -- is really anything but.
Editor's Note: Byron
Woods is a dance and theater critic and correspondent for the Raleigh
(NC) News & Observer. He has previously written for Backstage, InTheater,
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