Can Pilobolus be forty years old? Those of us who have enjoyed the McCain series for a while have seen the Connecticut modern dance company three times now, if memory serves, once back when dance was last big, once fairly recently, and then again last Tuesday night.
Unlike the company’s last visit, the seven talented, committed, athletic, and attractive dancers didn’t give us a retrospective program. Instead all five numbers on the revised schedule were choreographed in the last twenty years and two were from 2011.
The company is a sort of cooperative, and gang choreography seems to be one of their trademarks. For example, the second set opened with “Duet,” performed by the two women in the company, Eriko Jimbo and Jordan Kriston. The program tells us the 1992 dance was designed by four choreographers assisted by a couple of others. Only the show closing “Megawatt” had just one originator, late company founder Jonathan Wolken. And he was apparently assisted in putting the black mat dance together by what must have been the company’s dancers at that time.
If any one tendency or feature seemed especially characteristic of the five number, ninety minute show, it was probably how important physical contact was to the design of the dance. All dancers touch and lift and lug each other. But this Pilobolus show used more lifts and more lolling, and was more likely to combine bodies to make new forms than had any dance concert I could recall.
And the show led with one of those multi-body constructs, with four dancers rolling onto the stage as a bell tolled. The name of the piece was “Gnomen,” and it was both deliberate and serious relative to other dances on the program.
Moving to relatively abstract music (which became more Romantic) and wearing dark briefs, the men each took the part of the momentarily weak quartet member. The weak one was lifted and rocked (in one case on the feet of the others), sometimes drug along, sometimes made the center of a rolling combination. Some of that holding still to be passed or lifted took great strength, which the audience seemed to appreciate.
Three of those fellows changed costumes and came out with the two women for “All is Not Lost,” a happy pop piece which involved the use of a video camera pointed up at a glass table over which the dancers passed. The images from the camera were presented on an upstage screen. But the complicated (a centipede was one) artificial constructs, the swimming and climbing, and the kaleidoscopic effects the camera showed were only half of what was going on in the dance, as the grinning and mugging performers rolled around from table exit to table entrance.
The first set ended with “Korokoro,” a more lengthy and sober piece performed before a backdrop that could have been a thunder head. The company’s lighting man, Neil Peter Jampolis, allowed the dancers to throw their own shadows onto the backdrop, late, as they worked through the last of their lolling pairings. During pattern-breaking passages, one of the females would break free, leaving the other dancers to operate as a committee of the whole until, writhing, she knocked them all to the floor. The piece ended with lifts which themselves became steps for the two person combinations. I wondered about the focus of “Korokoro,” but if it was about one thing it was about the sometimes slow-motion pair movements.
After a long break, we came back to see “Duet,” which had music “Based on medieval songs from Norway.” In costumes which took on the colors of the lighting, the two women went through an impressive series of lifts, some while rotating, their relationships ever evolving in what was a nice, tight ten minute set.
Then “Meagawatt” brought out all the dancers onto a large rectangular mat, surrounded by parallel lines of light, for dance dominated early by crawling (without the use of arms) in lines. By this last number I was tired in sympathy from watching the action, but the dancers were more involved, acting more, and more obviously energetic for this piece. Several members of the company had hair long enough to pull back in braids or pony tails, and a couple of these got used as handles in whip cracking movements.
Again the lighting was important here. New ideas were introduced throughout including flashes from the sidelights and a square spot. The music veered toward Rock and the movement toward gymnastics, and the piece played with the dynamics between unison movement and visual dissonance.
I had a terrific time watching the show, and the good-sized crowd (some of them families with children perhaps a little young for this sort of thing) seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves. Modern Dance is fun. And Pilobolus puts on an attractive Modern Dance show.