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Pilobolus Dance Theater - 'Megawatt,' 'Wedlock,' 'Symbiosis,' 'The Brass Ring'

Trying to Forget

by Marshall Huntenberger

February 13, 2004 --Community Theater, Morristown, NJ

I love dance. Dance touches my soul and brings peace and joy to me as a rule. My peace was deeply disturbed by the assault I suffered by seeing Pilobolus last evening at the Community Theater in Morristown, NJ.

My view couldn’t have been better. My companion and I were seated in the center, first row of the front balcony. Completely unobstructed we waited as the upscale crowd was seated. The Community Theater is a well maintained, revamped older place with good sound and lighting, so we were comfortable and anticipating a good professional modern dance show.

The first piece, “Megawatt” started with the dance company slithering on to bad -- really bad -- Germanic-sounding hard rock music. Sliding on their backs and tummies they came on stage like a biological infestation.

The music throughout the performance was a constant irritant. Driving, boring, senseless, uninspired, unsophisticated music was the norm. The dancers -- males athletic and muscular, females lithe and strong -- gyrated and tossed, flew and crawled variously for the next 18 minutes to my complete horror. I felt like I was watching a Teutonic aerobics class gone awry.

A word about choreography: it should have a vision, principles, an overriding style and aim. Pilobolus has none of that. The program credits list numerous dancers and others as choreographers on their pieces variously. The look of the performance, however reminded me of an old saying, “a camel is a horse designed by a committee.” The performance throughout looked as though many strong opinions by various dancers and others were input to create this awful amalgam of uncoordinated, discordant dances and “other things.” More about “other things" later.

Pilobolus is particularly bad when they attempt to be coordinated and or symmetric. The lack of choreography leaves dancers on the stage doing whatever, when they should simply just be off. It seems that when one dancer has her way in the choreography the others become implements, stooges and props.

Back to the music for a moment, I like heavy rock music. I like classical music. I like many genres of music. The music at the Pilobolus performance I saw last evening was awful. It was rarely appropriate to the dance content and consistently boring.

“Megawatt” went on from aerobic styling to really ugly and disturbing shuttering movements that seem a hallmark of many of Pilobolus’s dances. The last movement, an unwitting tribute to The Monster Mash, made me giggle. And yes, I am sure that it was unwitting as the entire performance convinced me that wit isn’t a strong point of Pilobolus.

“Wedlock” is a piece about relationships that is both cynical and demeaning. Couples are portrayed in pain, tortured and ridiculous. My favorite low point was a short piece where a scantily clad female dancer rode on a scantily clad male dancer who pretended to be a “horsie.” She kicked him and slapped him and demeaned him much to the delight of a scattered few in the audience. Most of the audience was silently aghast.

Oh, correction, that wasn’t the low point. How could I forget the piece where a couple swallows and regurgitates into each other’s mouths using an elastic puke prop? I’m trying, maybe in a week or so I will forget it.

Intermission. As I said to my companion -- I’ve apologized three times for taking him and eventually he’ll forgive me -- before the second half of the atrocity started, “Assault: Part Two.”

“Symbiosis” approached artfulness. Two dancers appear prone and intertwined under lightning and the crack of thunder. The dance was a semi-interesting exploration of two people, seemingly involved -- in love or somehow to thankfully unmemorable music.

Make no mistake -- these dancers are super athletic and talented. If not for the fact that they seem to have choreographed most of the work themselves, I would have felt really badly that they were made to perform all the dances in this program. Their athleticism and skill worked well in “Symbiosis.” True, it could have been edited in half and had more impact, but on this evening, it was the only piece, by comparison, that was entertaining and seemed coordinated.

"The Brass Ring" really offended me. This work has Pilobolus dressed in body part tights marching and miming to circus music while making and unmaking piles of their lovely bodies.

About “other things": in addition to the discordance and lack of choreography, there seems to be some confusion within Pilobolus about whether they are a dance troupe, a mime group or vaudevillians. Much of the performance wasn’t dance at all. They should consider labeling themselves something other than dance. I could help them, but this is a family program.

Pilobolus has neither vision nor coherence. It is an uncoordinated, ugly collection of wonderful bodies and bad music.

I am glad I saw it though -- if only to give me a greater appreciation of all I’ve seen and loved in past.

For a history of Pilobolus by Dina McDermott from February 2004, click here.

Edited by Mary Ellen Hunt

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