Under the sea on stage: Momix.
photo: Max Pucciariell
Mae G. Banner
Theater, April 28
those real people?” asked the 12-year-old boy who came with
me to see Momix dance Lunar Sea last Saturday at Proctor’s.
Now, this kid is a credible parlor magician, with a sleight-of-hand
that fools me every time. He’s also the kind of part- skeptic,
part-techie who looks at theatrical special effects and says,
“I know how they did that.” So, if he was mystified by Momix,
the dancer-illusionists did their job.
and artistic director Moses Pendleton has been mesmerizing
audiences with tricks of black light and woozy camera effects
since the early ’80s when he split off from Pilobolus. Where
Pilobolus specialized in contortions, agility and humor, Momix
has gone further, to mask the very idea of humanity and replace
it with kaleidoscopes of abstract shapes.
Sea is Pendleton’s most nonhuman show to date. The dancers,
partially illuminated by phosphorescent blue or green light,
appeared as sea anemones, jellyfish, gulls or giant spiders.
Floating in mid-air to a stream of ambient world music (“White
Arcades,” “Buddha Experience-Zen Trance,” “Omnimotion,” “Leaving
Eden”), the bodies glided, flew, or leapt at weird angles
with elbows and knees forming exaggerated points. They were
not only nonhuman, they were un-fish, as well.
Bodies and parts of bodies disappeared and reappeared, like
the shards in a slowly turning kaleidoscope. Behind them,
on the large screen that formed a backdrop, blurred close-ups
of giant sunflowers zoomed in and out or refracted into shards
of their own.
One passage followed the next in a sequence that might have
suggested evolution, but I soon found it was more entertaining
not to think about meanings. Instead, I floated mentally along
with everyone else on the swooshes of blue light, catching
my breath at the most mystical, ineffable moves.
The giant jellyfish were cool. The dancers whirled like neon-blue
dervishes under huge umbrellas draped with parachute silk
(OK, I couldn’t help figuring this one out). They would waft
upward, their stringy legs drifting below.
Sometimes, the creatures did sproing-y jumps at impossible
angles. Sometimes, they were wiggle-worms at the bottom of
an all-encompassing aquarium. I saw a four-legged creature
cut off at the waist, like evolution gone wrong. But, the
most beautiful creation was a pair of moth’s wings edged in
blue that swirled rapidly in the air, joined another, and
disappeared in a flowery shape of silver-blue dust.
Migrating geese became calligraphic serifs became clam shells
opening and closing became bodies lying on tilting tables
covered with drooping tablecloths that became ball gowns,
dainty and strange. Then, there were pairs of feet in ballet’s
first position that did little cross-beats, as if to prove
they could dance, after all.
The first part of the 90-minute show, Sea of Tranquility,
was driven offstage by a fiercely red-lit Bay of Seething.
Now, the shapes began to flame under harsher colors and fiery
backdrops. Two bodies did a mating dance in which the female,
upside down, gripped the male’s waist with her arms and raised
her legs in the air. Big exercise balls, plumed head-dresses,
cartwheels, dives, and moon-walking combined in a synchronized
swimming show, funny and amazing.
A Darwinian drama pitted a poison green spider against an
orange bug. Through tricks of light, the blocky orange bug
birthed a cube-shaped baby, which the spider ingested, flexing
its long zipper-like legs. Ughh.
Only in the curtain call did we see that they were real people
after all—five Charles Atlas-looking men with outsize chests
and biceps, the better to lift five willowy women who could
do fouettes, but, following Momix’s aesthetic, mostly chose