Pilobolus at ADF
by Kate Dobbs Ariail
July 1, 2010, Durham, NC: Pilobolus makes its annual appearance at the American Dance Festival, dancing in the Durham Performing Arts Center this week. It’s another well-balanced show of old favorites and new commissions.
The evening opens with the dark-toned Gnomen (1997), a beautiful male quartet. The costumes are black briefs bisecting the men’s muscular forms; the lighting (David M. Chapman) moves with them, gleaming goldly on skin and Lyrca alike as the men dance, contort, glide, leap and lift through a series of cycling relationships. There are certainly playful and ridiculous moments, but overall this piece feels serious, philosophical. This was the third time I’ve seen it, and I think it might be about Time. Big Time. Mundane time. Musical time. Life time. “Gnomon” is the word for the time-telling arm of a sundial, and the term for a single leg of a parallelogram — a form that appears in the dance. It sounds a bit like “gong” — just a bit, but enough that when one man’s big head is tapped and the music gongs, it is both funny and natural. The music (Paul Sullivan) includes other clock and metronomic sounds, as well as the musical equivalent of the rocking, reciprocating sections of the choreography. The piece has a strong sense of resolution: It was a lovely, if fortuitous, choice to mark the death of company co-founder Jonathan Wolken, who died June 13.
This is followed by the marzipan Walkyndon (1971). Its ducky-yellow costuming and inspired slapstick always uncaps the well of laughter, and made a good transition to the newly ADF-commissioned Contradance, which had its premiere Thursday night, with vaguely alt-country/old-time songs by Dan Zanes. A lone male dancer comes onstage like a tinker, bearing a big wooden rocking chair hung about with things. The chair is his excuse to be there; it’s his cage and his fortress. The home folks gather about, and all the normal things that happen when a stranger’s in town then ensue. As the stranger ceases to be a stranger, the dance gets sweeter and sweeter and more of the songs are in ¾ time. It was odd to see sleek Pilobolus bodies in hickish country clothes, waltzing, but quite touching.
The other new work, an ADF co-commission, is clever and enjoyable, but not emotionally engaging. Hapless Hooligan in Still Moving, a collaboration between cartoonist Art Spiegelman, and Michael Tracy and the Pilobolus dancers, is more successful than the Basil Twist collaboration a couple of years ago, but it has the same basic problem for me: I am much less interested in seeing silhouettes behind a scrim than I am in seeing the dancers in the flesh and in the round, unseparated from me except by air. Still, Hapless is well done, invoking not just cartoons and animations in their classic forms (from Loony Tunes, Popeye and Dick Tracy to R. Crumb and Spiegelman’s own work) but also the work of painters like Philip Guston and Aaron Douglas. One of the strongest images, made of projections and shadows, looks just like an enlarged print on escape from Douglas’ dance series (the NC Museum of Art owns some, normal size).
The concert closes with the always-stupendous Megawatt (2004). How can humans do these things! From the sides, to the blare of Primus, Radiohead and Squarepusher, the prone bodies come humping in like seals up the beach. Except they look electrified. I’d like to know how many calories — kilocalories, megacalories — it takes to make this blazingly bright dance. Once the bodies reach the center stage, they gain use of arms and legs, which are as wildly kinetic as the abdomens had been. Pulsing and jerking, the six dancers explode into the air and throw themselves crashing to the mat—to spring up like Superballs. The are going so fast and hard that the interactions between dancers feel dangerous, and the adrenaline running through one’s own veins adds to the thrill of the full-tilt action and its high-speed visuals.
This program continues at DPAC July 2 and 3 at 8 p.m., with a children’s
matinee program at 1 p.m. on the 3rd. See our calendar for details.