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Magician’s tricks: MOMIX.

Illusions of Grandeur
By Mae G. Banner

MOMIX in Orbit
Proctor’s Theater, Jan. 18

Moses Pendleton’s crowd-pleasing recipe for MOMIX combines two parts Cirque du Soleil, a splash of Michael Moschen, a sprinkling of Mummenschantz, and a whiff of vaudeville. It’s an enticing cocktail that kept me and a nearly full house at Proctor’s watching and wondering how these sleek dancers accomplish their gravity-defying illusions.

The eight-member troupe includes Pendleton, who’s been dancing and choreographing since 1971, when he cofounded Pilobolus with three Dartmouth buddies. Ten years later, Pendleton split off to form MOMIX, who have built an international following with their gymnastic moves and light- and prop-driven illusions.

Where Pilobolus plays a contortionist game of interlocking bodies to create nonhuman shapes, MOMIX goes more for the magician’s allure. Dancers in skin-tight costumes spin in and out of darkness lofting giant balloons or gleaming hoops. Their dances are more about momentum than meaning. If you like Pilobolus, you probably like MOMIX, too.

The MOMIX in Orbit program shows off the dancers’ amazing control and stamina. The current members, who’ve been with the troupe for only two or three years, are mostly ballet trained, but the acrobatic choreography—all created over the years by Pendleton and former MOMIX dancers—makes only fleeting reference to ballet moves.

In Spawning, a trio of women who seemed to float beneath huge pale blue balloons moved with delicate strength in beautiful backward-skimming bourrées. Later, they squeezed the balloons between their legs as they circled in chain turns. Finally, the women lay flat on their backs and let the balloons float up into galactic darkness.

The dark, starry backdrop reappeared in Dreamcatcher, the evening’s most captivating dance. Ari Loeb and Natalie Lomonte stepped in and out of a lovely construction of intersecting bamboo parabolas, an otherworldly Tilt-a-Whirl that the dancers propelled solely through shifting their weight. The object made heartlike and elongated flower-petal shapes as the dancers took their magical ride.

Tuu, a duet for Sara Kappraff and Tim Melady, exemplified the MOMIX aesthetic: not about love, but leverage. The dancers make spider shapes, testing the laws of weight and motion. He grabs her by one taut leg and pulls her onto his back and over one shoulder, then sets her spinning on her butt.

An eye-popping solo presented a male dancer as a diver, working his arms and scissoring his legs out and in powerfully, his feet never leaving the floor. In another tour de force, Todd Burnsed and Nicole Loizides, sheathed head-to-toe in silvery stretch fabric, seesawed on pairs of skis. Every effortful ripple of their torsos was almost painfully apparent in this highly athletic stunt dance.

Unlike ballet or modern dance, most MOMIX dances are without nuance or musicality, which is the dancer’s own expressive phrasing. Like aerialists, MOMIX dancers must keep perfect, predictable timing to remain in synch with each other, their props and the music. The choreography is a string of repetitive moves, which typically increase in speed or difficulty, then fade out in darkness.

The music, mostly electronic, is by composers like Peter Gabriel, and performed by groups like OPIK, Dead Can Dance and Art of Noise. One welcome “ringer” was a hilarious solo, The Last Vaudevillian, danced by Lomonte to Judy Bressler’s exuberant singing of the Yiddish theater song “Rumania,” performed by the Klezmer Conservatory Band. The dancer, in a loose-fitting black suit topped with an outsize puppet head, flipped upside down and banged that head on the floor every time Bressler sang the word Setz. I wondered if the dancer was upside down inside the costume, and therefore actually stamping her feet to that raucous beat. Who knows?

Two full-company dances wound up the evening. In Sputnik, three men with long poles set into motion a red-haired goddess who’s kneeling in a big metal paella pan. The goddess snakes her arms as she spins, while three women ride the poles like meat on a spit. Sputnik looked like fun to do, but also looked cheesy on stage.

E. C. (does it mean “Engineering Corps?” or “Extra-Celestial?”) borrowed from Mummenschantz to present evolving shadows that separated and merged behind a pair of white sheets to form weird shapes: towering giants with long legs that kick off from their bodies; headless creatures with huge hips; hermaphrodites; aliens.

The audience gave a standing ovation to the dancers, who appeared, one by one, in a dancing encore that allowed us to appreciate each of them on their own as limber movers, good-looking and beautifully toned.

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