Pilobolus, Back in the Groove, as ADF continues at DPAC

From [esc], June 20, 2013, DPAC. Photo: Grant Halverson, courtesy ADF.

From Licks, June 20, 2013, DPAC. Photo: Grant Halverson, courtesy ADF.

Just this week I had to explain what Pilobolus is, to a woman in my Pilates class, so I know that not everyone knows about this ever-morphing dance group named for a fungus–even though here in Durham, where the plastic fantastic dance company appears each year at the American Dance Festival, it is easy to assume everyone’s seen their awesome antics at least once. Whether you have or haven’t, this is a good year to go. After some faltering collaborations with outside artists (last year was pitiful), the collaborative group has found its footing again (if you’ll excuse the phrase) and is repeating the 20th’s wonderful program the 21st and 22nd at DPAC.

In Penn & Teller, the comedic magician-escape artists, Pilobolus has found an intriguing match. Together they made a strange and unforgettable hybrid. Commissioned by the ADF, [esc] received its world premiere on the 20th at DPAC, where it was received with howls of approval from the audience. The first section is structured like a classic escape act, with audience members helping to build a box and secure four dancers in various ways. They then release themselves through feats of agility and magic, which I won’t spoil here.

From [esc], June 20, 2013, DPAC. Photo: Grant Halverson, courtesy ADF.

From [esc], June 20, 2013, DPAC. Photo: Grant Halverson, courtesy ADF.

Following immediately was Licks, by Trish Sie and Renee Jaworski and the dancers. It is another ADF commission, also having its premiere. Licks is pure dance, with ropes, to a mixtape of high energy music. The theme is again escape, which always requires previous capture or restraint, as we have just seen.  Many variations on escape and its predecessors are gorgeously danced out in classically elegant Pilobolean choreography, with its flow through recombinant structures and groupings. The ropes, although we know the dancers are manipulating them, seem as alive as the people (as do the kites, in a charming video preceding [esc]). The ropes come in handy to visualize another of Pilobolus’ ongoing preoccupations, the behavior of wave forms not normally visible to the naked eye. Together, [esc] and Licks are a little bit spooky, with a slightly dangerous feel, especially Licks.

From [esc], June 20, 2013, DPAC. Photo: Grant Halverson, courtesy ADF.

From Licks, June 20, 2013, DPAC. Photo: Grant Halverson, courtesy ADF.

The program’s first half includes the marvelous, funny, Molly’s Not Dead (1978) for six dancers in red, orange or yellow Lycra bodysuits. Both the shape-making and the silly carrying-on in this are first-rate. All Is Not Lost (2011) romps light-heartedly with the coolness of imaging technology. The dancers mount a special glass table and a video camera underneath captures their images and flips them upright to project them on a screen beside the live action. It is a blast to see the dancers from underneath, especially when the group is making like a crayfish. Following this was the fantastically beautiful, and beautifully danced, Ocellus (1972), choreographed by some of Pilobolus’ original members for a male quartet. All this richness, and then two world premieres. A very good night at ADF.

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