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Flash Review, 7-6: Eroticism and Nerve
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 exciting.

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 it alone.)

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.

Pilobolus continues 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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