Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The fungus was among us

Pilobolus was back in Boston last weekend, with a crowd-pleasing show that gave little indication of the strife the group has recently endured (last year choreographer Alison Chase – in whose Dartmouth dance class the group was born – either left the company or was “forced out,” depending on whom you believe).

It's somehow comforting to know that, whatever its current travails, this troupe will prevail. I’ve always loved Pilobolus for its athleticism and frisky sense of fun – this is dance that, unlike ballet, doesn’t punish the body in order to transcend it, but instead accepts the body, even revels in our haunches, crevices and funny holes - as well as the nuts and bolts of how muscle and tendon connect to bone. The troupe’s five men and two women generally tread a fine line between choreography and gymnastics – although sometimes they just clown around, as was the case with Memento Mori, one of the newer pieces on the program, a shaggy-dog story about growing old which only included a few short bursts of pure dance. Those moments – basically a coltish Andrew Herro scampering around in his underwear – weren’t particularly inventive, but were still somehow magical, as was most of the rest of the program (which was bursting with Boston premieres). The opening Aquatica (2005) may have been a little obvious, but was nevertheless enchanting as it followed a young girl tempted by a sprite into the open ocean, where she cavorted among grottoes of coral with various mermen (and the odd crustacean). By way of contrast, the early solo Pseudopodia (1974) - performed with nearly glistening skill by Jun Kuribayashi - gave a glimpse of Pilobolus at its beginnings: all wriggling, excited exploration (no wonder the group’s named for the fungus seen at right).

Sometimes, of course, a Pilobolus performance can begin to feel like an unexpectedly sexy episode of Sesame Street, but the duet Symbiosis (2001) belied that image: its melancholy couple (Jenny Mendez and Manelich Minniefee) never left each other’s arms (or legs) – and captured perfectly the comforting despair of codependence. The one real disappointment in the program was its finale, the explosive Megawatt, which opens with bouncing promise but never takes its lively parody to the next level. Still, as the curtain fell, I felt a tug of real affection: will they be back soon?

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