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Pilobolus Dance Theater (NYU Skirball Center)

Program A displayed pretty much every facet of this company’s artistic philosophy, from slow-motion movement fantasies to Houdini-esque vaudeville routines.

“On the Nature of Things” performed by Pilobolus Dance Theater (Photo credit: Robert Whitman)

“On the Nature of Things” performed by Pilobolus Dance Theater (Photo credit: Robert Whitman)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

For those having difficulty pinning down the Pilobolus Dance Theater—dance company?/theater company?—their name solves the problem.  It is, indeed, a hybrid of movement, word, music and video.

Currently entertaining audiences at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, Pilobolus’ Program A showed pretty much every facet of its artistic philosophy from slow-motion movement fantasies to Houdini-esque vaudeville routines.

One of the keynotes of Pilobolus is teamwork, each work created by several choreographers with the input of many others, too many to name here.

“On the Nature of Things” (2014), created by Robby Barnett, Renée Jaworski, Matt Kent and Itamar Kubovy, is an erotic ménage á trois for two men and a woman, all virtually naked, atop a tiny platform where, to the strains of Vivaldi, they pulled, pushed, lifted and otherwise manipulated each other leading to overt suggestions of both hetero and homosexual passion.  Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern, Antoine Banks-Sullivan and Jordan Kriston—fine physical specimens—looked more serious than sensual, but the sculptural imagery was memorable.

“All Is Not Lost” performed by Pilobolus Dance Theater (Nadirah Zakariya)

“All Is Not Lost” performed by Pilobolus Dance Theater (Nadirah Zakariya)

“All Is Not Lost” (2011) is a funny gimmick run riot.  Created by OK Go, Pilobolus and Trish Sie, Mr. Banks-Sullivan, Krystal Butler, Benjamin Coalter, Derion Loman, Sayer Mansfield and Teo Spencer, cavorted on a glass top platform with a video camera placed strategically under the glass facing up.  On a large screen, their slippings, slidings, intertwinements and mime appeared to be floating in space.  Phoebe Katzin’s fancy pale blue unitards and the lighting of Michael Dostal and Shane Mongar added to the anatomical intimacy.

In “Thresh/Hold” (2015), a NYC Premiere, a doorway on wheels becomes a heavy handed symbol of dread.  Created by Javier de Frutos, Ms. Jaworski and Mr. Kent to David Van Tieghem’s variations on Bellini’s “Casta Diva,” the cast—Mr. Fitzgerald Ahern, Mr. Coalter, Ms. Kriston, Mr. Spencer and Mr. Loman—dressed in Gregory Laffey’s Depression-era costumes, savagely beat up on Ms. Kriston who appeared to be a down-on-her-luck prostitute.  Despite attempts to help her, the despair never lets up, making for a puzzling, misanthropic theater piece.  Sarah Laux’s gloomy lighting was perfect.

[esc] performed by Pilobolus Dance Theater (Photo credit: John Kane)

[esc] performed by Pilobolus Dance Theater (Photo credit: John Kane)

[esc], staged by Penn & Teller, Mr. Barnett, Ms. Jaworski and Mr. Kent, is a Penn & Teller homage to Harry Houdini.  To a musical background of pop songs, the performers—Messrs.  Fitzgerald Ahern, Banks-Sullivan, Coalter & Loman and Mlles Krystal Butler & Jordon Kriston—were variously locked in an “escape-proof” box (assembled by two audience volunteers), squeezed into a carry-on bag, handcuffed to a 13-foot pole and duct-taped to a chair.  Their escapes, accompanied by Penn’s humorous narration were exciting, energetically performed, but, in the last analysis, a bit long-winded.

The final work, the sad, bizarrely surreal “Rushes” (2007), choreographed by Inbal Pinto, Avshalom Pollak and Mr. Barnett, turned an arrangement of plain chairs into a waiting room to nowhere as the dancers, bleary-eyed and overwhelmed, wandered about, rearranging the chairs into more and more chaotic forms.  Despite a touch of whimsical comedy, the overall impression of “Rushes” was dark, dark, dark, including the use of a ubiquitous Arvo Part composition.

“Rushes” performed by Pilobolus Dance Theater (Photo credit: John Moncrief)

“Rushes” performed by Pilobolus Dance Theater (Photo credit: John Moncrief)

Between dances, some brilliant videos were shown to allow for set changes.  In one the dancers made a funny totem pole; in another, hardware was animated into sea creatures and in another, guacamole was made—constructed?—out of baseballs, dice, golf balls, etc.  It was all quite delightful.

Pilobolus Dance Theater: Program A (through December 4, 2016)

NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, 566 LaGuardia Place, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-998-4941 or visit http://www.nuyskirball.org

For more information, visit http://www.pilobolus.org

Running time:  two hours including one intermission

Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (172 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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