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February 2003

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Juilliard Dance

Published: February 18, 2003
Category: review

Blurring the boundaries of dance: Pilobolus

By Rachel Straus

Pilobolus Dance Theater, named after a sun-loving fungus, went through a dark period last year. The three 2002 dances presented at Purchase’s Performing Arts Center Saturday night revealed little of the sculptural beauty, dynamic approach to music and ironic sensibility that originally catapulted the founders from a 1971 Dartmouth College dance class to an international touring group at the forefront of modern dance.

The six-member company, under the direction of four artistic directors, is revered for its weight-bearing feats and athletic partnering.

Unfortunately, the 2002 “Brass Ring,” “Ben’s Admonition,” and “The Four Humours” suffered from choreographic redundancy and unflattering costuming.

While most dance organizations avoid the chaos of collaboration by dividing labor into two distinct skills, making and performing dances, Pilobolus prides itself on blurring the boundaries between creation and execution. In “Ben’s Admonition” (2002) -whose title is taken from Ben Franklin’s rebuke to a clashing Congress: “If we don’t hang together, we will surely hang separately” – the difficulty in Pilobolus’ democratic creative process is inadvertently revealed.

Although choreographer Alison Chase literally and successfully translates Franklin’s metaphor regarding democracy’s failure into a visual narrative, much of “Admonition” involves dancers’ Ras Mikey C and Mark Fucik’s attempt to find interesting ways of hanging, as their feet drag against the floor, from the same suspended wire handle. When they finally hang, separately (against Franklin’s admonition) and by their necks, I was hardly teary-eyed.

Perhaps Pilobolus needs to forsake some of its egalitarianism. In “Symbiosis” (2001) and “Untitled” (1975) – both vastly more masterful dances that were correspondingly made with fewer participants and by the original company members – the second half of the evening zoomed by.

In “Symbiosis,” choreographed by Michael Tracy in collaboration with veteran performers Otis Cook and Renee Jaworski, a fresh approach to composer Thomas Oboe Lee’s “Morango … almost A Tango” redeemed an evening previously lacking in musicality.

Wearing only g-strings, dancers Cook and Jaworski rise in “Symbiosis” like a Darwinian Adam and Eve to perform a gymnastic tango, which emphasized the erotic partnership between female suppleness and male solidity.

Keeping in the spirit of tango, the couple dips and turns, but in this case Cook’s dip causes Jaworski to sends her entire body backwards onto his shoulder and her turns, executed with a buttery smoothness, are full summersaults against his chest. Additionally, the company’s current tendency to work in slow motion enhanced the symbiotic hush of this most creative tango.

The last dance on the program “Untitled” remains Pilobolus’ artistic triumph. Created in 1975, Renee Jaworski and Jennifer Macavinta’s lady-like nodding and swaying are rendered absurd by the instantaneous growth of their legs to 10 feet.

The bonnet-toting women also morph into quadrupeds with the manliest of ankles. Beneath their flowing white skirts, four men tamper with their height and their sang-froid. Yet these ladies, like this ever-evolving company, carry on joyfully.

Also dancing in Pilobolus’ 31st season was Matt Kent.

The Journal News

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