Pilobolus combines dance, acrobatics, acting and more
Part dance, part acrobatics, part physics, part theater --- and all entertainment --- Pilobolus Dance Theater is an icon of unconventionality even in the unconventional world of modern dance. Rochesterians will get their chance to see what all the fuss is about when the seven-person company performs at NazarethCollegeArtCenter on Saturday, September 30.
Every summer Pilobolus premieres a new work at the JoyceTheater in New York City. Memento Mori, this year's creation, will be one of five pieces performed at Nazareth this autumn. "Memento mori" is a Latin phrase that means "remember you are mortal." The dance, choreographed by Artistic Director Jonathan Woken, is a tender, yet sometimes slapstick depiction of an aging couple reenacting their past. The extended duet is danced by Andrew Herro and ReneéJaworski to music that includes Debussy, Bjork, and Florence Foster Jenkins.
Another pair of lovers will take the stage in Michael Tracy's 2001 work Symbiosis, set to music by composers including ArvoPärt and George Crumb. Dancers Jenny Mendez and ManelichMinniefee, the symbiotic lovers, fervently show their affection while showcasing some of Pilobolus' defining lifts and holds.
Central to the technique of the 35-year-old company is a unique weight-sharing approach to partnering, which the dancers employ to shape themselves into eerily intricate living sculptures, and to achieve some terrific tumbling feats. In a typical Pilobolus performance, limbs sometimes become so entangled and the dancers so entwined that it's difficult to keep track of how many are actually on-stage.
Such on-stage intimacy must spring, too, from the collaborative choreographic process, in which the pieces are created. Rather than piecing together a string of codified dance movements, Pilobolus has, over the years, invented its own storehouse of dance vocabulary from which to draw. New works evolve through intensive periods of improvisation and creative play by the dancers and artistic directors. Since there were no names in any dance vocabulary for the new shapes the 25-year-old company was coming up with, they made up their own: moves are called "galloping sofas," "flogs," "dolphins," and "fat gnomes."
Pilobolus also often showcases quirky humor, which is appropriate for a group that named itself after a sun-loving fungus that lives in cow dung. But not just any fungus --- the pilobolus fungus uses a "shotgun" approach to blast its spores towards the sunlight.
Exactly what connection the dance company draws between itself and the fungus is anybody's guess, but bear in mind that the name was coined by three undergraduates at Dartmouth --- Michael Tracy, Jonathan Woken, and Robby Barnett, now the group's artistic directors --- back in the early '70s. It was in a Dartmouth dance class that Tracy, Woken, and Barnett created the piece they dubbed "Pilobolus," which rapidly went from student showcase to New York City stage. There it caught the attention of Charles Reinhart, the director of the prestigious American Dance Festival, who invited the inexperienced troupe to perform in his festival.
Since then, Pilobolus has gone on to create nearly 90 original works, perform in countries around the world and win the coveted Berlin Critic's Prize and the Brandeis Award, among others. See what the fuss is about when the troupe hits town this weekend.
Pilobolus Dance Theater | Saturday, September 30, 8 p.m. | $40 | NazarethCollegeArtsCenter, 4245 East Avenue, 389-2170, www.naz.edu/artscenter.