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Pilobolus Redefines Movement Potential

World-renowned, Grammy nominated, and award-winning dance company Pilobolus graced Seattle’s Meany Hall last weekend, May 14–16, with a brilliant program that ranged from elegant to bizarre. Each dancer brought a unique level of talent to the show; the consistency of their technical performances was not only an unusual feat, but made for an unforgettable production on all fronts. With films before each piece and an emphasis on technology, strength, technique, and focus, Pilobolus demonstrated itself as a true force to be reckoned with.

Piloblous in On the Nature of Things Photo by Grant Halverson
Piloblous in On the Nature of Things
Photo by Grant Halverson

First to hit the stage was On the Nature of Things, a stark depiction of the human form in all of its movement potential and strength. In an acrobatic conundrum that played with suspension, dynamics, and time, three dancers (Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern, Jordan Kriston, and Mike Tyus) performed atop a round, two-foot wide platform illuminated by a spotlight. They balanced on, lifted, and manipulated one another, appearing to defy gravitational possibility and the boundaries of human power, yet managing to maintain a continuous flow throughout. Gravity and time became subjective, even inconsequential, and they appeared to defy the laws of physics with brute strength. Created by Robby Barnett, Renée Jaworski, Matt Kent, and Itamar Kubovy in collaboration with nine other dancers, On the Nature of Things was sensual. Dark. Powerful. An utterly raw viewing experience.

All Is Not Lost, a 2011 collaboration between OK Go, Pilobolus, and Trish Sie, exemplified Pilobolus’ successful integration of technology and gave the audience the unusual experience of seeing a dance from two different vantage points. With a camera pointed upwards under a glass table, and the video projected onto a screen, the work created a fun, funny, live film installation. The on-screen dancers created kaleidoscope patterns of feet, arms, and heads, while the on-stage dancers slid across their bellies, undulated, and pulled one another across the table, or else formed human slides to allow for the illusions on screen. All Is Not Lost was a beautiful lesson in perspective and the potential of technology as an artistic tool with many a smile and comic twist.

Pilobolus in Automaton Photo by Grant Halverson
Pilobolus in Automaton
Photo by Grant Halverson

Automaton took a different perspective on technology. Choreographed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Jaworski in collaboration with the dancers, Automaton was an image of the human machine, conformity, and loss of individuality. The first half of the work consisted of constant shifting, scuttling, and whirring; each individual was a machine, instrumental to the greater collective conscious and undistinguished in purpose or construction. The use of formal costuming and three large, rectangular mirrors also contributed to the mechanical stop-motion sensibility of the movement and to the narrative development of the work. Halfway through Automaton, the dance shifted both in aesthetic and in design. The dancers began to recognize their own likenesses, becoming individual, mortal characters who explored the essence of lust, tactility, and desire for a brief moment before being re-consumed by industrial uniformity.

The Inconsistent Pedaler was a wacky, topsy-turvy, dark comedy that spun audiences into a dream-like alternate reality where time was a figment of the ordinary. A girl whose bicycling had the power to control the speed of time, a grown man in a bib and diaper, and two love-struck swing dancers set the stage for the 99th birthday party of a spirited old man and, ultimately, the hilarious festivities and bitter-sweet ending to follow. With theatrical scaffolding, seamless transitions, and a non-traditional narrative, The Inconsistent Pedaler was a beautiful, well choreographed piece of performance art that inspired both laughter and tears.

Pilobolus in The Inconsistent Pedaler Photo by Grant Halverson
Pilobolus in The Inconsistent Pedaler
Photo by Grant Halverson

The program ended with Sweet Purgatory, which might be pinpointed as the evening’s most “classical” work. Six dancers took to the stage in subtle, multi-hued unitards and engaged in an ascent from the underworld towards faith with an otherworldly, animalistic athleticism that was set against the constant calm of shifting bodies. Graham-inspired bison jumps and Cunningham-style linearity showcased the dancers’ ability to maintain classical form. They jumped and rolled, throwing one another or else suspending bodies like slow-turning pinwheels above the ground, reframing the space into an alternate universe and redefining the potential of the human form. Although the work said what it needed to say several minutes before the end, it was a true testament to the artistry of Pilobolus in more ways than one.

Needless to say, what made the Pilobolus dancers so entrancing was their utter mastery of the human form: their ability to be lifted as immobile objects, shape the space, shift easefully through strenuous positions, and transform their movement aesthetic for any given work. The unimaginable power and artistry with which material is executed as well as the comprehensive choreographic mastery of each piece presented, makes the company an undeniable global force. Although Pilobolus has already finished its stint in Seattle, the group is sure to return in years to come with more vigor and prestige than ever.

More information on Pilobolus available here, and more information on the UW World Series available here.