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Pilobolus - 'Prism', 'Gnomen', 'Sweet Purgatory'

by Cecly Placenti

July 24, 2006 -- Joyce Theatre, New York

Pilobolus is a phototropic zygomycete – a sun loving fungus that grows in barnyards and pastures. At only ¼ inch tall, it is a feisty little organism that can throw its spores nearly eight feet. That’s high enough to scale a cow.

Pilobolus, the art organism, is a highly unusual, non-traditional dance company whose unique signature style grows out of a deeply committed collaborative effort. At seven dancers thick, its fresh approach to weight-sharing and partnering give it the power to make dances that look like moving architecture. If viewers are looking for a pure, recognizable technique with fully straightened, turned out knees and pointed feet, they won’t find it here. What they will find, however, are masters at gravity defying shape making, effortless weight sharing often from unobvious center points and with fearless abandon.

“Prism,” a New York premiere, featured three men and one woman inhabiting a world of film noir mystery. Set to a medley of songs by Coldplay, the dancers morphed into and out of daring positions, constantly building and demolishing a kinetic architecture like a kaleidoscope on the stage. The movement was an organic evolution of duets and fractured angles. Dancers, suspended parallel to the ground from their partner’s bodies like snakes, challenged what we know of gravity with ease. As they balanced, hovering above the stage moving their arms as if through water, their amazingly strong cores kept their spines erect and buoyant – not a wrinkle could be seen in their brightly patterned unitards.

The most impressive offering was “Gnomen” which had the mystical birthing quality of cells dividing. The piece as a whole gave the impression of an amoebic organism evolving and exploring its process of unfolding. Performed by four men wearing only black spandex shorts lit in warm golden light, the outlines of their striking Adonis-like chests and arms contracting and supporting each other in dynamic postures, “Gnomen” was touchingly tender without being saccharine. The way they reached their arms out to take hold of each other was a dance in itself. The effortless way they shared each others’ weight made the airborne dancers look like they were swimming through currents that were still and cool – no extra bumps, jostles or slips-of-hand notified the audience of the constant shifting. As the group began to signal out individual parts, they became more inquisitive of their separate functions. They tested and manipulated each other until they collectively decided they were better off as one unit. “Gnomen” built to an end so lovely, so moving in the unified support of a connected being. The ending was quiet and simple – four parts of the same whole kneeling close together but apart.

Almost every piece in Pilobolus’ repertory has some degree of improvisatory flavor, often making dances look too similar. “Sweet Purgatory,” perhaps because it came after “Prism,” seemed more a continuation of an already developed theme than an exploration of something new, although the symmetry of two trios onstage side by side added an interesting dimension.

Pilobolus, like its spirited namesake, continues to evolve along its readily identifiable path as a genuinely theatrical experience.

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