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Best of MOMIX

Presented by the Washington Performing Arts Society

by Carmel Morgan

February 20, 2009 -- The Warner Theatre, Washington, DC

MOMIX has been around for over 25 years and is still going strong, even recently appearing in a national television commercial for Hanes underwear.  The company presented a show titled, “Best of MOMIX,” to a receptive DC audience that appeared to be composed of a lot of families and non-dance goers.  MOMIX’s appeal is more similar, perhaps, to that of groups like Cirque de Soleil.  Although the company has a modern dance foundation (Artistic director Moses Pendleton was a founding member of Pilobolus Dance Theater), MOMIX describes itself as a company of “dancer-illusionists.”  Its works are uncharacteristically accessible, and they evoke a sense of wonder and delight.

The “Best of” show contained a multitude of entertaining excerpts from past shows.  One of the best things about this MOMIX performance was that it didn’t strain the attention span, making it very family friendly.  The company jumped rapidly between pieces, giving the audience little time to shift in their seats before something else alluring popped up on stage. 

Among the best of the “best of” works was the opening piece.  (Unfortunately, the company didn’t quite stick to the published program, so while I believe the work is called “Aqua Flora,” I’m not positive this is correct.)  A dancer appeared with a prop that seemed to be a kind of hat with cascading beads.  The “hat,” however, moved up and down the dancer’s body. The hanging strings when spun formed a rotating disc, which was enhanced by lighting that caused patterns to appear on the disc’s surface.  Thus, the non-solid object suddenly looked solid.  The spinning of the dancer and the disc were completely mesmerizing.  It was dizzying to watch but undeniably fun. 

The human body, as used by MOMIX, was a source of constant surprise.  Dancers wrapped themselves around each other, legs and arms opening like a sea anemone in “Tuu.”  Dancers in “Moon Beams” gyrated atop large balls, wearing neon green swimsuit-like costumes with tasseled caps.  When they nodded their heads, the tassels swayed, making them look like water genies.  In another dance, they became day-glo umbrellas/amoebas, pulsing to and fro.  Or they were segments of a caterpillar-type creature, doing prostrate versions of the wave in “Gila Dance.”  Or they were rocketmen in sleek silver costumes on skis, leaning at absurd angles and testing gravity as they precariously balanced in “Millennium Skiva.”  And all that was before intermission.

After intermission, it was more of the same kind of surreal dance-illusion for which MOMIX is known.  Dancers’ arms, with impressive lighting effects, became birds in flight.  The rest of their bodies were hidden from view, lost in pitch black darkness.  One couldn’t help but wonder, “How’d they do that?”  In another short work, “Dream Catcher,” two dancers rode a sculpture that resembled a gyroscope.  Via this mobile jungle gym, they were able to twist and turn with added dimension.  In “The Wind Up,” a female soloist with a ball that she moved from shoulder to hand to hand did more turns than I’ve seen a dancer do in a single performance.  In an ensemble work, dancers gathered around a brass bowl.  A goddess-like dancer sat in the bowl, which was pierced by three large poles.  The remaining dancers spun the bowl and climbed the poles, flying in circles.  This work, “Sputnik (‘Fellow Traveler’)” seemed to be a cross between a hypnotic religious ceremony and a carousel for adults. 

The closing work was titled “E.C.”  It offered advanced shadow puppetry.  Dancers used all parts of their bodies to make dark shapes on a huge screen.  There were Adam and Eve (and the apple), a spider, a sunflower, a falling child, and more.  All of these figures flowed up and down like the insides of a lava lamp.  The audience was full of appreciative giggles. 

While the show was less modern dance than somewhat gimmicky body magic, it was nonetheless enjoyable.  The performers were certainly highly skilled, and the choreography was spiked with humor and creativity.

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