Thursday, June 21, 2007
Presented by The American Dance Festival
Durham, North Carolina

The United States is in a health crisis. Experts lament the growing trend of obesity, fueled by an increase in the consumption of food and drink that lacks any significant nutritional value. If the performance by Pilobolus Dance Theatre at the American Dance Festival is any indication, the epidemic has spread to dance as well. On Thursday, the audience gorged itself on fast food dance and, while clearly satisfied with what they were given, nevertheless walked away with very little substance.

It’s not that such dance is necessarily all bad. Even the biggest health nut (or “serious” dance enthusiast) can enjoy a french fry every once in a while. The danger with fast food dance comes when the sugar-high wears off, leaving audiences wanting more. Thus, they return to their comfort food, choosing it over more healthful fare, and respond with fanatic gratitude, like sporadic bursts of applause and ill-deserved instant standing ovations.

That said, there were certainly moments to like in several of the works presented by the 36-year old company. In particular “Rushes”, a collaboration with Israeli choreographers Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak, achieved a sense of depth that none of the other works approached.

Pinto and Pollack bring a focus and attention to detail that serves Pilobolus well. Pinto’s characters, reminiscent of the dark and elegant creatures from her enchanting work “Oyster,” are unfortunately a bit too similar in their mannerisms to the cheeky clowns introduced in Pilobolus’ first piece of the evening. While Pilobolus’ goofiness is played frequently (and desperately) for laughs, Pinto uses the quirky attributes to imbue her characters with tender humanity.

Elsewhere throughout the program, the company’s trademark display of innovative partnering and impressive physical distortions make up the bulk of choreography – and immediately win over audiences – yet the lack of transitions between these isolated moments and their failure to connect to any clear or meaningful idea essentially squanders them. Which is a shame because some of the images are really quite strong.

In one work, a woman’s elevated body undulates in soft waves like a seal gliding through the water. An impersonation of a tumbleweed provides the inspiration for an animated solo. In another work, a row of bodies gyrate in sync against the earth to the thunder of heavy metal music. All satisfying individual moments that can’t hold their own against an assault of low-calorie tricks. What begins as potentially rich material quickly dissolves into easy conventions, silliness, and clichés.

Pilobolus is like the class clown in school that everyone knows is actually quite smart but who simply won’t apply himself. Perhaps if Pilobolus began to take itself more seriously, the rest of us would be able to as well. But alas, they’re having too much fun. And so is the audience, which isn’t a bad thing. However, until the company finds a way to put their remarkable brand of physical theater to more thoughtful use, Pilobolus viewers will be getting their modern dance “to go”.