In eighteen short sections, Pendleton and his dancers evoke images of the western deserts of the U.S., using whatever means necessary, be it skateboards, puppetry, classical Indian dance, acrobatics, technological gimmickry or a truckload of imaginative costumes.
Every part of Opus Cactus is well-constructed but a few stood out from the rest.
In “Desert Storm,” UV light made shiny green sagebrush fly and float across the stage. “Cactus Wren” began with a lithe dancer standing on one leg in silhouette, stretching her other leg up behind her—the photo on the season’s flier.
“Pole Dance” showed off the prowess of the male contingent as they used long poles to form tent-like structures, ending with the men exuberantly pole vaulting into the wings.
“Prickly Pear” displayed the closest to pure dance on the program, its two dancers, encased head-to-toe in dark unitards, slithering side to side in deep second positions (legs apart) and balancing in that position upside-down. “Big Pole Dance” was exactly that: four men carried on a long pole on which two women twisted and swung.
Probably the best costume was for “Gila Dance,” in which four dancers, connected head-to-butt, made one very long pink creature that slithered and grimaced about the stage. In “Sundance,” the women used very large golden fans in all sorts of ways—as dresses, pretty patterns and to imitate the star for which it is named.
The dreamiest was, indeed, “Dream Catcher,” which opened the second part. A man and a woman hung onto a cleverly complex chrome-finished pipe sculpture which was slowly tilted and rolled in all directions, allowing the pair to meet and part in slow motion. This was also the closest Opus Cactus came to establishing a human relationship, even though the two never quite got together.
The climactic moment came with the appearance of a supersized puppet that resembled a cross between a butterfly and an angel, created by Michael Curry, its filmy wings undulating in the breeze as three women, supported by bungy cords whirled about, pushed to and fro by the men.
The music ranged from Italian opera to Australian didgeridoo (a native woodwind that makes an eerie deep sound) to Middle Eastern to meditative, all matched with precision to the choreography and imagery.
Phoebe Katzin’s array of costumes were superbly imaginative as was the extraordinary lighting designed by Joshua Starbuck and Mr. Pendleton which created a multitude of moods.
However, it is the agility, humor and strength of the dancers that were the backbone of the show. Although it was difficult for any single dancer to shine, they worked together like a well-oiled machine, making it all seem simple.
Momix: Opus Cactus (June 27 – July 16, 2017)
Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-242-0800 or visit http://www.joyce.org
Running time: two hours including one intermission