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Flash Review 1, 6-28: Volatile Virtuosity
Strength Meets Grace as Pilobolus Meets Taiko

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2000 Maura Nguyen Donohue

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You always know, as you're sitting your tired ass down to see Pilobolus, as I did last night at the Joyce Theater, that your time-honored beliefs in the nature of strength, endurance and gravity will not hold. In fact, they will be brazenly defied. And every time you think "Whoa, how the hell did they do that?" they will take it a step further. Pilobolus has been one of my favorite companies for years, not only because of their rampant athleticism but because their work proves the benefits of a true ensemble. They're capable of exercising physical and artistic risks in the way they do because of the intense commitment of each of the four, count 'em four, artistic directors and the six dancers (always two women and four men) towards a collaborative, if at times volatile, creative process.

The collaborative spirit succeeds in the New York premiere of Alison Chase's "Tsu-Ku-Tsu" with Taiko drummer Leonard Eto. Upon hearing a few cursory pounds on the great O-Daiko drum filter from backstage I could feel my excitement rising before the house lights had been dimmed. I'm a big fan of Taiko drumming, having collaborated with NYC's own Soh Daiko, five years ago on my company's first work. So, I was eager to see what the famed alum of Kodo would do with a group like Pilobolus. The drama unfolds revealing the sinewy, glittering back of a seasoned drummer as he raises his arms and sets off a powerful vibration that rips through your chest. But, from there on, though the drumming is strong and articulate it's never overpowering. According to some of the press material this took some figuring out, but further proves the caliber of their working model.

The dancers begin with Rebecca Anderson, Josie Coyoc and Benjamin Pring dressed regally in kimonos crouching on the peasant-clad backs of Otis Cook, Matt Kent and Gaspard Louis. They slowly grow together into ethereal creatures of legend before returning to the floor and disrobing until Louis and Cook in traditional-styled fundoshi engage in a modern dance sumo struggle. The divine Pring approaches his solo with exquisite vigor, control and articulation and Coyoc's unkempt solo is a wild delight. Anderson pounces on Kent and wraps herself around him with luscious sensual assertion. After a final sequence full of flying and swinging bodies Pring walks backwards up the chest of a vertical Kent before dropping into his arms. A sincere meeting of strength and grace.

Program A also consists of the 1999 light-hearted solo, "Femme Noire," for Anderson. The 1997 "Gnomen" men's quartet was created in memory of friend and colleague, Jim Blanc. The gentle beauty of the ending image is breathtaking. The second half of the program consists of last year's "A Selection." Here Pilobolus proves that its bizarre and acrobatic style can be applied towards dark themes. For a more in-depth review check out PBI's Flash Review, 4-19: "What's Dachau?".

Pilobolus continues with three different programs until July 22. For more info, visit the Joyce web site.

(Editor's Note: For more info on dancer, choreographer, and writer Maura Nguyen Donohue, visit her company's web site. To read a review of her recent concert, see Flash Review, 5-12: Boy in Babeland.)

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