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Under the sea on stage: Momix.

photo: Max Pucciariell

Otherworldly Creatures

By Mae G. Banner


Proctor’s Theater, April 28

‘Are 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.

Founder 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.

Lunar 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 not to.

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