trust: Pilobolus Too.
Mae G. Banner
Egg, Sept. 30
What you get with Pilobolus is a fusion of acrobatics, gymnastics,
illusion, humor and mime, with a nod to the theatricality
of modern dance. The original collective, founded in 1971,
grew out of Alison Chase’s encouragement of Jonathan Wolken
and Moses Pendleton, two athletic guys who happened to take
her dance class at Dartmouth.
The troupe continues to evolve, changing shape like the light-seeking
fungus for which it’s named. Over the years, Pilobolus has
spun off founding dancers, absorbed new ones, and, in 1996,
founded Pilobolus Too, a duo who perform scaled-down versions
of the main group’s original works.
Now, what you get with Pilobolus Too is a display of acrobatics,
gymnastics, humor and mime—but, not so much illusion. At least,
that was the case when dancers Rebecca Darling and Matt Kent
opened Dance Close, the Egg’s new series of chamber-sized
ensembles presented in the 450-seat Swyer Theater.
Looking at these solos and duets up close is like opening
the magician’s box and learning how he fooled you. The small
thrust stage put Darling and Kent right in our faces, along
with what should have been invisible props, like the strip
of material on a rope (pulled by an offstage techie) that
allowed Darling to glide mysteriously across the stage.
In the absence of illusion, there was still plenty to admire,
notably Pilobolus Too’s amazing technical control; their steely
bodies, nearly bared in the final dance; their strong focus;
and their completely trusting relation to each other in dangerous
lifts, cantilevers and changes of weight. Both Kent and Darling
gave themselves totally to the flow of movement.
The pair danced an astutely-chosen set of six Pilobolus works
that covered the period from 1975 to 1999. All were choreographed
collaboratively by the founders and the original performers,
including Robby Barnett and Michael Tracy.
The program opened and closed with two “primordial ooze” duets,
Alraune (1975) and Shizen (1978), in which the
dancers’ limbs intertwined to make crab-like shapes or wrapped
around their chests like coils of clay. In Alraune,
the two sat butt to belly on the floor, legs drawn up, and
Darling, tucked up on Kent’s lap, stroked her bent knees—only,
they were Kent’s knees.
In Shizen, the dancers mirrored each other’s moves,
very slowly curling and unfolding, proceeding to compact frog-jumps
and six-limbed crab-walks, as if they were re-enacting eons
of evolution. Comparatively small next to the martial arts-trained
Kent, Darling could lift him, while he could balance her on
his back or whirl her rigid body around and around over his
head like a vaulter spinning his pole.
Two solos showed the humorous side of Pilobolus. Darling danced
Femme Noire (1999) as an Erte fashion plate come to
satiric life. In a long black gown with a thigh-high slit,
she hid her face behind a black straw hat with an enormous
brim, while she used her hands to shove her body into elegant
poses. The joke was that she could not tame a butt that had
a mind of its own.
The best-realized dance of the night was Kent’s solo, an excerpt
from The Empty Suitor (1980). Placed next to closing,
Suitor had true vaudeville style. Kent, in top hat
and black jacket, balanced precariously on four rollers as
he tried, with goofy dignity and determination, to retrieve
his fallen hat. He maneuvered a walking stick, got entrapped
in the slats of a park bench, alternated pratfalls, splits,
and amazing recoveries, all to the real jazz of Ben Webster’s
“Sweet Georgia Brown.” Suitor had everything: theatrical
movement, emotion, skill, and a direct link to the captivated
Two high-concept duets, Televisitation (1985) and an
excerpt from Land’s Edge (1986), put the dancers through
dramatic and gymnastic paces. Televisitation was Kent’s
dream of a beautiful blonde Darling. But,the dream became
a nightmare as the angel turned into an incubus who attacked
the sleeper. She held him in a headlock so tight it took a
somersault to dislodge her. They waltzed and spun, but whenever
Kent seemed to have mastered Darling, she shifted her weight
and threw him to the ground.
Edge turned the tables, putting Kent in charge. He did
a rubber-doll dance with crossed ankles as he contemplated
the inert Darling. He rolled her over and over, using his
teeth and head, and pushed her to her feet, but her limp body
fell in on him. Wonderfully textured and layered costumes
by Lawrence Casey and delicate music by Paul Sullivan added
depth to this dance of discovery that ended with a high lift,
and amazing whirl, and an embrace.