Drop the name Pilobolus in a crowd and you’ll find out how cultured (or un-)your friends are. If you know anything, even peripherally, about real concert dance you will know what these four strange syllabi mean… and if you don’t, you should. When I think of Pilobolus I think of the human sculpture that is so eloquently depicted in their extraordinary posters. Going to see them again reminded me that they are so much more. Not only was I looking forward to the show, but I got to bring an excited 7 year old version of myself along as well. The posters had the same effect on her as they do on me.
If you aren’t familiar with the name Pilobolus, and you like movies and are wondering, “What the heck is she talking about?” you might remember their incredible shadow puppets from the 79th Academy Awards.
…and yes their favorite costume choice is skin.
The company started in 1971 and created a new face for contemporary dance. They look at the body as a sculptural tool. Through pure strength, simple physics, weights and balances they mold the flesh into something else. The way they artfully connect the dots is what makes their performances dance and not merely gymnastics. But again, that is what they are known for and they bring so much more to the table.
Saturday night at the Ferst Center for the Arts at Georgia Tech., Pilobolus offered us an evening of five pieces. It was a delightfully surprising line up, and the pieces were as different from one another as the audience members in my row.
In SEXTET (2012) giant metal hoola hoops, curved pipes and spheres are weaved in and out of, passed back and forth and used to propel across the stage. Every action is executed unexpectedly and every move seems weightless. It is like a universe is being built in the building. They are highly skilled in the art of creating shape.
ALL IS NOT LOST (2011) takes first place in my book. The stage is cut into two halves. On the left we see a giant screen and on the right there is a large glass table. As the dancers climb the table we realize a camera underneath is capturing their image. What is amazing about this work is that the same movement showcased in different orientations, look completely different from each other. Sliding along the table looks like flying on the video. A group of dancers holding hands has a cool kaleidoscope effect on screen. When a dancer undulates across on their side, the projection looks like they are swimming across. Note to the company… this is the one my daughter has been telling everyone about.
KOROKORO (2011) is definitely more of a stereotypical Pilobolus piece. It has that sculptural quality their fans know and love and proves that they are The Masters of Counterbalance. The dancers are clad in just dance belts and bra tops. For those of you who are lost, this means just their private parts are covered up… more or less naked …and yes I had a very mature conversation with the 7 year old in preparation for this. In fact, she handled it much better than some of the 40 year olds walking out of the theater. As for me, and one of the things that I love about this company, the nakedness registers but then it’s forgotten, as you invest yourself into what’s unfolding on stage. It is a valid costume choice. The movement in this piece is primal, jerky, contorted and labored. It seems to depict an evolutionary tale of life emerging from primordial sludge. There’s an incredible moment where a human slide is created. The performers crawl from upstage, shimmy down somehow and become the tail end of the contraption for the next cog in the evolutionary wheel to slide down.
After the intermission, a controversial piece, I’ve been hoping to see one day, was presented. A collaboration with MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and its Distributed Robotics Lab (DRL), SERAPH (2010) is a man versus technology tale. It is more like primitive man and Robot introduction. Describing the dance of the flying hover crafts, Gia Kourlas of the New York Times says, “— they dart about the stage like alien wasps —.”
Reviewers have questioned its validity as a dance piece. Some have liked it and others haven’t. Kourlas even goes as far as to call it gimmicky. Well, I beg to differ. Pilobolus is known for pushing boundaries, and you can’t do that without experimentation. Not only is the movement interesting but there are real relationships developing between beast and machine. My vote is YES, this is dance. I would like to know what The Backstage Beat readers think. Take a peek and let me know.
The last piece MEGAWATT (2004) hit the nostalgia chord with all of us pushing 40’s with the hard beat of Primus pumping from the speakers. I don’t know if it was the music that I love or their supercharged (literally) performance, but I was in from the beginning. All I can say is imagine a wrestling match in a sanitarium. There is a lot of out of control shaking, throwing of oneself with a couple of tough girly wrestling outfits to boot. At one point, they even grabbed an imaginary plug situated at the tops of their heads and disengaged. I wouldn’t say this was the most of refined high art, but as I sang to John the Fisherman I was completely entertained. In fact, I sang all the way home.
After a couple of days and as the information had sufficiently sunk into her 7 year old brain, I asked my daughter what she thought. She said, “It was more interesting than other shows.” …and I think that is saying a lot about her and Pilobolus.