Pilobolus, the acrobatic dance troupe, is in the prime of life. Now 34, the company continues to astonish and delight with fresh new works made with the same happy collaborative process that has defined them for decades. Even as new dancers cycle in and older ones retire, the company maintains its unusual character. In Page Auditorium on June 16, Pilobolus opened its three-day ADF run with dazzling performances of four works from 2003-2005. Two of these, the brand-new Aquatica and the 2004 piece Megawatt, will be performed again in the programs on the 17th and 18th.
The evening opened with Aquatica, set to music by Marcelo Zarvos. This was the beautiful segment of the program, and it was deeply pleasing. With a theme of ocean life and, I think, ships, it rolled and flowed ceaselessly. The Pilobolus rolling move worked wonderfully for this piece: the six dancers rolling, full length, forward and back like waves were the ineluctable tide. The next moment, they had built a ship; the next, the ship had crumbled and morphed into undersea plants capturing dinner from among the unwary swimmers-by. Image after image unfolded, all in the deep, steady rhythm of the sea, now faster, now slower. Aquatica was the first piece of sustained dancing to a long piece of music seen at ADF so far this season, and it was very welcome.
Star Cross'd (2003) was not quite as beautiful as Aquatica, but it was ravishing, full of daring, conflict, conquest, and trust. It showcases the company's aerial abilities, and much of the dance takes place in the air, on lengths of black shiny fabric suspended from above. The dancers' visual similarity to the ideal forms of ancient Greek marbles is heightened by their simple, thin unitards, color-keyed to their skintones so they seemed to be nude. Star Cross'd is about lovers, but I wouldn't call the dance romantic so much as downright erotic.
The second half began with BUGonia (also 2005), a bright, charming piece for the company's two extraordinary women, Renée Jaworski and Jenny Mendez, who work in brightly-colored and patterned unitards. Danced against a backdrop of projected, changing nature photographs, it explores a range of bug behavior, generating images ranging from humorous to gross, to breathtakingly beautiful metamorphoses. In addition to their work on the floor, the dancers did some wonderful aerial work on the yellow fabric "ropes" suspended center-stage. In the final scene, they climb one hank of fabric while wrapping the other around themselves – a shimmering cocoon – before tumbling out to join the dozens of butterflies projected on the back wall. This is not an intellectual dance, but it is a delight.
The program closed with the high-energy Megawatt. Here the six dancers race and twitch like demented Reddy Kilowatt clones to loud music by Primus, Radiohead, and Squarepusher. The piece is a tour de force of Pilobolized hip-hop and breakdance moves, and the dancing is intense, almost violent, and very fast. People jerk and pulse rapidly, launching themselves into the air and throwing themselves to the floor with equal abandon – fortunately their costumes include knee and elbow protection. You'd say the dancers were frenetic if they weren't so controlled. More than any other piece on the program, Megawatt is more about pure motion than images or feats of balance, and it features lots of reciprocal actions describing energy transfer. It's an impressive, exciting work, though it didn't move me as much as the more lyrical Aquatica or the sizzling Star-Cross'd. But as an example of Pilobolus' range and power, it was a knock-out.
Pilobolus continues 6/17-18. For details, see our calendar.