Saturday night’s concert by the renowned Pilobolus Dance Theatre might have been the most rewarding disappointment possible.
It was spectacular, magnificent, truly jaw-dropping – all of it. The modern dance company has elicited these kinds of reactions for more than 40 years, on a variety of stages and in a variety of formats.
The Pilobolus name is likely most familiar from their appearance on the 2007 Academy Awards, wherein they re-created scenes from nominated films in silhouetted, back-lit projections. They wowed audiences then with their clever, often-funny movement; it was dance theater accessible to the “movers,” and not just the dancers, out there. It was also a water-cooler moment, a rarity for dance companies in mainstream media, even ones with such longevity.
If you had purchased a ticket expecting this unique shadowbox performance, you might have been let down, but that wouldn’t have lasted too long. [The evening was not advertised as such, it should be mentioned.]
The evening’s program was loaded with contemporary, progressive, accessible, thoroughly entertaining work that busted through the many limits nondance people tend to [unfairly] put on the form. It included film, too, another form the company produces work in, along with a slew of other creative mediums; you might have seen them on commercials, in film, and music videos. They are omnipresent.
Their popularity can be attributed, in part, to their keen ability to connect dance to the public through the adaptive, expressive, tangible dialects of modern dance. They utilize colloquial movement to show us how we connect with each other already, and abstract choreography to show us how we might connect.
“Azimuth” opened the program with what might have been a contemplation of the circle: the fluidity of its edgeless form, the continuity of its spherical dimension, the beauty of its simplicity. It spoke elegantly of the place we all come from, and the access we all have to movement. It was democratic in that way, a gift Pilobolus is adept at offering.
Two pieces are based on collaborations with the work of indie rock band OK Go, known for its form-blasting music videos. “Skyscrapers” adapts the band’s dance-focused video, collaborating with choreographer Trish Sie to re-create her color-themed duets. “All Is Not Lost” also adapts a music video by the band, one that Pilobolus and Sie co-created with OK Go. This involved an innovative contraption in which dancers lay flat on an elevated clear platform, with live video shot from below and projected on the side. Our eyes went back and forth from the platform to the projection, imploring us to examine the various perspectives of surface and gravity.
“Gnomen,” a tribute to late friend and colleague of the company, Jim Blanc, was the most traditional of the evening’s offerings. In it, four men moved in tandem to each other, relying on magnetic support to their fallen friend’s weakness. It was generous and beautiful, sad and uplifting. A tribute to an individual as well as a statement to the masses: in dance, as in life, we are stronger if we listen to each other, kinder if we rely on each other, and better if we move with each other.
Hardly a disappointing offering.