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Alison Chase/Performance

A Pilobolus innovator on her own.

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A scene from Alison Chase’ “Tracings” (Photo credit: Christopher Duggan)

A scene from Alison Chase’ “Tracings” (Photo credit: Christopher Duggan)

[avatar user=”Joel Benjamin” size=”96″ align=”left”] Joel Benjamin, Critic[/avatar]Alison Chase’s dance pedigree is topnotch.  As a co-founder of the dance phenomenon, Pilobolus she is a master, if not an instigator, of their popular philosophy of combining gymnastics, ballet, mime, modern dance and even circus arts into witty, visually fascinating, if not always deep, dance works.  At the Five Angels Theater, her good-looking, hard-working dancers heated up the stage in the seven short dances that made up the program.

Chase put extreme physical demands on her dancers in some works, relied on their acting ability in others, most often combining these elements.  She also—as the Pilobolus creators did—collaborated with her dancers on virtually all the choreography, so where she leaves off and they begin is difficult to ascertain.

Three solos, “Pregnant Pause I, II and III” were danced by the delightfully daffy Jenna Sherman, attired in a black gown, one long, red opera glove and an extremely large wide-brimmed hat, floated about and posed picturesquely to a series of lectures on the habits and peculiarities of birds.  She was mesmerizing doing practically nothing.

The entire company was also mesmerizing in the opening work, “In the Forest of the Night” (a world premiere to what sounded like electronic music by Franz Nicolay) in which eight dancers, lit only by hand-held flashlights, created a dreamy and oddly non-frightening world of shadows, a group crawling around and all over each other in the darkness.  They wore simple, dark camouflage costumes by Grier Coleman who also provided the more colorful costumes for “Tracings,” a work for three men and one woman (Beau Dobson, Kenneth Higginbotham, Matt Walfish and Jessica Bendig) in which the young lady was willingly manipulated by the men in high lifts, drags and twisty leans. She even walked on the men, en route to different parts of the stage.  The dark hued score by Christine Southworth added weight to the strenuously performed relationships.

“Red Weather” was a great deal more colorful than the other works, at least up to this point in the program.  The costumes, designed by Ms. Chase, included short floral print dresses for the two women and button down shirts over pants for the four men.  Here the partnering/mating rituals were very democratic with men partnering women, women men and women women.  The score by Rob Flax was a vocalise that helped create a mysterious ambiance.

A Scene from Alison Chase’ “Red Weather” (Photo credit: Christopher Duggan)

A scene from Alison Chase’ “Red Weather” (Photo credit: Christopher Duggan)

The most complicated work was the final ballet, “Monkey and the White Bone Demon,” borrowed from the Pilobolus repertoire, in which a demon on stilts took on several forms, first terrorizing, then being conquered by the others.  Long red poles were used variously as weapons, parts of a cage-like construction, pole vaulting poles and, laid at angles, means to climb onto and off of each other.  Based on the title and some of the stylization, “Monkey” might be based on some Asian legend, but its colorful fight sequences and the battles between the “populace” and the shape-changing “monster” were entertaining.   The score was by Paul Sullivan and the vaguely ethnic costumes by  Angelina Avellone, adapted for this performance by Coleman.

This short program was beautifully danced and impeccably produced.  Alison Chase still has her creative juices flowing, even if she hasn’t left the Pilobolus fold…or mold.  The dancers are strong, committed and quite wonderful to look at as they tumble, spin, crawl, partner and emote.

Alison Chase/Performance (January 14-17, 2016)

Five Angels Theater, 789 10th Avenue at 52nd Street, in Manhattan

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Running time: one hour with no intermission

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About Joel Benjamin (563 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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