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Pilobolus: A Metamorphosis to Behold

Written by Nalisha Rangel

Meany Hall was appropriately packed for the 40th Anniversary celebration of Pilobolus Thursday night, October 6th. The company first graced the world stage with its emerging presence in the early 1970s and since has evolved into one of the most dynamic, stimulating dance troupes today with Artistic Direction by Robby Barnett, Michael Tracy, Jonathan Wolken, and Associates. Performing compositions in simple, skin-tight costumes with theatrical lighting, the dancers depict evolving kaleidoscopes of physical ambiguity that continued to astonish.
Pilobolus dancers in Rushes.

Photo courtesy of UW World Series

Michelle Witt, Meany Hall’s Executive Director and new Artistic Director of UW World Series, introduced the program. Due to an injury, Renee Jaworski was replaced by Eriko Jimbo and three program pieces were substituted. Nevertheless, the seasoned dancers graced the stage with confidence, amidst these late changes, and delivered a beautifully executed program. The choreography brought to life an imaginative menagerie that transformed the stage and transported the audience.

Rushes (2007), which replaced Untitled (1975) this evening (choreographed by Inbal Pinto, Avshalom Pollak, and Robby Barnett and performed by Matt Del Rosario, Winston Dynamite Brown, Eriko Jimbo, Jordan Kriston, Jun Kuribayashi, and Nile Russell) opened the show. The stage, sprinkled with wooden chairs in a circle, a briefcase, and one overhead light bulb, which illuminated six dancers dressed in loose and ragtime-like costumes by Pollak and Pinto. While the music shifted from Eddie Sauter to Miles Davis, John Blow to Big Noise from Winnetka, and then to Dukes of Dixieland, the insect-like choreography transitioned the landscape of the stage from cave-like, with water-drip sound effects, to an underwater scene where movement slowed, and then to a winter wonderland where, with a soft push and pull, a dancer glided as if across a sheet of ice. 

The shadow work in Transformation (2009) playfully disguised and surprised. Like shadow puppets on steroids, Kriston morphed into a cute, little dog while a large hand, belonging to Russell, reached over making her body appear alternately canine and human for a sweet, comical treat set to the music of David Poe and accompanied by sharp lighting by Neil Peter Jampolis.

Pilobolus’ Jun Kuribayashi in Pseudopodia
Photo courtesy of UW World Series

Pseudopodia (1973), which replaced All Is Not Lost (2011) in the program, left the audience gasping in awe when soloist Jun Kuribayashi explored the many possibilities of  fulcrums in his own body, then balanced perfectly still on his sits bones following a series of quick body rolls around the stage. This composition, choreographed by Wolken, was performed with red lights cast upon Kuribayashi’s red, tight unitard, which traced his cut muscles from neck to ankles, accentuating his extension.

Symmetry echoed an M.C Escher’s drawing in Duet(1992); no clear delineation of beginning and end. It was as if Kriston and Jimbo were Siamese twins who, attached at the hip, wrestled under water. Their bodies became the petals of a flower, peeling each limb away as the dew of a morning’s frost thawed. Each figure was solid as a tree when climbed from the floor to the shoulder by their partner. And as if to defy gravity, their arms and torsos fold and unrolled together to suspend each other’s weight where the speed of such a movement may elsewhere result in a thud to the ground.

The choreography in Day Two (1980) required each dancer to wrap his or her body around and through the limbs of their partners, forming creatures that seem familiar yet alien. Pilobolus magically honed the trustful grace and control in each pair. An evolution from earth to sea to sky outlined a cohesive thread around creatures of the rainforest with beautifully executed portrayals of birds, frogs, apes, and insects; morphing body parts together into multi-legged creatures or hinging joints to balance in air like a winged flock.

Pilobolus continues to push the physical boundaries of the human body and reminds audiences around the globe how yielding the structure of our skeletal mechanics can be; sculpting familiar, earthly creatures with the flip of a wrist, the rotation of an ankle, or the slither of an upper body. The company brings an abundance of ecosystems to life on a stage simply set with lights and figures. Each climb, swing, or hydraulic bounce from one dancer to another transports audiences into the jungle, or splashes to the deep sea and rises to soar above the clouds. This imaginative choreography coupled with the exquisite strength of each dancer is one reason why Pilobolus will continue to draw crowds to follow its ever-growing repertoire.