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After watching Pilobolus perform a few days ago, I wrote a rather dismissive review of the show suggesting that it amounted to little more than cheap popular entertainment (see my previous post). After writing that review, we were visited by choreographer Tere O’Connor, recently renowned by his scathing rebuke of Joan Acocella and critics in general for failing to reach out to artists and also for failing to engage with the work, opting instead to simply judge it. He challenged us to go into a show asking not “Is it good or bad” but rather “What is it?” I doubt he had Pilobolus in mind. Nevertheless, I went back to the show to see if I could look at the work with a new perspective, not necessarily to give it more credit but perhaps to find something interesting in what was happening on stage as it relates to our world. Below is my second attempt at reviewing the show.
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Saturday, June 23, 2007
Presented by The American Dance Festival
Durham, North Carolina

The fungi have been busy this year. Very, very busy. Pilobolus Dance Theatre, the 36-year old company named after a spore-producing organism, trotted out three new works from 2007 at the American Dance Festival. And the year is only half over.

Of the three recent creations, two in particular offered some provocative ideas and poignant images.

On the surface, “B’Zyrk” is a goofy study in the group dynamics of a rag-tag band of circus performers. Yet as each character pushed the others away to get closer to the audience, and as the group took yet another faux curtain call, I couldn’t help feeling a bit sad. It hinted at a desperation to be seen and liked and a willingness to do anything to receive approval. There was something very American Idol about it all, as if they were simply waiting for the audience to cast its vote and pick a favorite.

A mini-soap opera provided another telling moment. At one point, two women fought for the same man while three other performers delight the audience with acrobatic tricks in the foreground. I was struck by the decision to downplay the conflict and actively cover it up with mindless entertainment. Whether intentional or not, the scene calls to mind the social tendency to minimize discord in favor of happier and less complex themes. With all of the stunts, few audience members may even have noticed the strife. Interesting idea for a country at war. American Idol, anyone?

Perhaps in can be summed up with a revealing music choice. Following all the fun and games, the dancers began to work themselves into a frenzy and spun like whirling dervishes as The Tiger Lillies repeat the ominous phrase “the crack of doom is coming soon”. All of a sudden, this light-hearted community of clowns got a little eerier and the world became a scarier place.

The company’s collaboration with Israeli choreographers Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak produced “Rushes,” a darkly comic journey of a man seeking companionship that brought a clarity and focus lacking in the rest of Pilobolus’ work. Pinto’s clever integration of props, namely a dozen kindergarten-style chairs and a suitcase, allowed for the constant creation of new settings as well as a remarkable animated dream sequence.

The conclusion finds the man, now accompanied by a women slung over his shoulder, trudging across a road of chairs that appear just before he steps on them and disappear as soon as he passes. It’s as if to say the future has not yet arrived and the past is fading, so we might as well live in the present. Eventually, we’ll find our way home.

The inconsequential “Duet”, an arbitrary series of lifts and counterbalances, rounded out the new works which were joined by “Pseudopodia,” a tangled, tumbling solo that most accurately showcased the company’s ingenuity in working with the human body, and “Megawatt,” an all-out assault on the senses that was the equivalent of sending the performers through a 20-minute tumble-dry cycle.

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