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Flash Review, 7-6: Eroticism
Pilobolus Gives Good Dance, Uncensored
By Ben Munisteri
Copyright 2000 Ben Munisteri
Pilobolus's Program C,
which opened last night at the Joyce, reveled in eroticism and nerve.
Before describing the performance, however, let me admit my biases
early in this Flash: 1) I usually crave more compositional formalism
than the stuff Pilobolus creates; sometimes during their performances
I hear in my head Sondheim's "Gypsy" lyric "You gotta get a Gimmick!";
and 2) it was at a 1985 performance of Pilobolus's "Day Two" that
my own novice pursuit of dance was finally and irrevocably galvanized.
Having said all that,
this was an uncensored evening, which I appreciated enormously.
The program's candor was apparent not only in the unambiguous sex
that permeated most of its pieces, but in the unedited way various
movement ideas appeared and then evaporated -- without concern for
the rightness of their inclusion or the very formalism I usually
love so much. The bits so carefully planned for effect live at odds
with narratives left to themselves and motifs that may or may not
develop. It is this latter bow to anarchy that I often found so
My guest last night,
the omnipresent Paul Ben-Itzak, has already written about the first
piece on the program, "Apoplexy" (1998) -- a group work set to music
by Paul Sullivan, and so I won't get into it much here. This was
a piece where I was NOT down with the aforementioned and lauded
bow to compositional anarchy. To me, it looked like a collage that
may have answered the artistic directors' question "How many cool
things can you guys do?" I didn't see how one sequence of kick-ass
lifts had anything to do with the nymph-like, gymnastic creature
Rebecca Anderson portrays later or the opening's martial tension,
punctuated by auditory explosions in the soundscore, to which the
dancers mime being leveled. Yes, the astonishing performers do some
wicked stuff, but that's all I saw. (For more on this piece, see
Flash Review, 4-19: "What's Dachau?")
On to "Tantra Aranea"
(2000), which is a duet that follows two not-exactly-human lovers
(Josie Coyoc and Matt Kent) from initial meeting to foreplay through
climax. Since Byron Woods has already described the dance's mythic
origins (Flash Review 1, 6-17: Tantra Tarantula?),
I will focus on the movement: This was the most erotic dance I have
ever seen. At one point I think I was aroused -- and I'm, you know,
pretty gay. The lovemaking was explicit and industrious. In slow,
muscled, and circuitous sequences, Kent and Coyoc's beautiful, almost-nude
bodies cascade over each other, caressing each other's groins and
buttocks, burying their heads in the other's crotches. In addition
to the arousal, I felt a freedom and a joy that sex was being danced
without coyness, humor, or disdain. (I thought of the footage I'd
seen in college of Martha Graham's depiction of Jocasta getting
hot in Oedipus's arms). The dance evoked in me the memories of my
most intense and intimate sexual experiences -- the ones where you
love the other person and his body so much you must merge with him;
with this breathlessness I waited for the orgasms. It was then that
Coyoc gives Kent a venomous bite on the neck. Like a triumphant
spider, Coyoc leaves the bed and reigns over her prey.
I probably would have
preferred a climax and some cuddling to this punchline, but as the
curtain descended, something about their expressions of pleasure
and Kent's still-trembling body made me think of Bernini's "Ecstasy
of St. Theresa." One cannot deny St. Theresa's expression of rapture
and the raw energy rippling through her dress, as a murderous angel
plunges his arrow into her supine form. Yes, he is killing her,
but both are clearly experiencing it as a pleasurable and sexual
act. Perhaps there is an historical locus where sex, death, and
religion meet. Still, I guess it's pretty creepy.
(The next piece, "Uno,
Dos, Tray" is a trio for two sailors, a waitress, and a tray. Since
PBI assures me it's been written about recently -- see the above-referenced
FR, 4-19: "What's Dachau?" -- I'll leave
The last piece on the
program, "Debut C" (1988) is wonderful for both its unrestrained
eroticism and compositional atheism. Directed by Moses Pendleton,
it was choreographed by Pendleton in collaboration with Jack Arnold,
the late Jim Blanc, Austin Hartel, Carol Parker, Peter Pucci, and
Jude Woodcock, and has not been seen around these parts since 1994.
The piece, to Debussy's lush scores (from La Mer to L'Apres midi
d'un Faune and others), evokes a pastoral realm by using the dancers'
nudity, Nijinsky references, odd choices (a disembodied arm visible
through a hole in the costumes), and large, flexible poles, which
the men use alternately as oars, horns, and even their own penises.
Although this morning
I recall parts of the piece as transparent efforts to exhaust all
the illusory possibilities six dancers can think to explore with
poles and dresses, the props are later abandoned for nothing at
all. Rebecca Anderson and Kent dance a lovely nude duet; dancers
suddenly become fauns and satyrs without costume, props, or make-up;
the piece's strange narrative path seems directed only by the images
and swells in Debussy's score.
It is unusual to see
a clear dance phrase in a Pilobolus piece, but "Debut C" has several
"dancey" moments and ends with a nice, flowy unison. While I really
liked this, I must note that only three of the six dancers were
able to accomplish the referenced lines (a few arabesques and at
least one off-center side leg extension) with the requisite straight
legs and pointed feet. Ben Pring was especially lovely in these
classical shapes (and not just because he's a friend). Still, I
loved this piece's bold and reckless departure from the standard
dance structure -- much in the way Debussy's music rejected the
established symphonic format for the time.
at the Joyce through July 22, with three distinct programs. For
more info, visit the Joyce web site.
For more info on choreographer Ben Munisteri and his company's upcoming
benefit, visit his web site.
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