Momix pushes the boundaries of dance to the limit with its eclectic style Troupe to perform at arts festival

June 25, 1993|By Rona Hirsch | Rona Hirsch,Contributing Writer

For its weekend debut in Maryland, Momix will perform its classic roster of modern dance pieces at the Columbia Festival of the Arts, saving its trendier numbers for another time.

So tamer standards such as the partially nude women lip-synching opera while vying for space in a giant clamshell and the pair of torso-writhing skiers looking for love to the rhythms of King Sunny Ade and his African Beat, will be performed at 8 p.m. today and 2 p.m. tomorrow at Wilde Lake High School.

"Momix is more radical than a standard modern dance company," said artistic director Moses Pendleton, who founded Momix 13 years ago out of his Connecticut home.

Momix members don't just dance. They are dancer-illusionists, using shadow lighting, props and projection screens to transcend reality.

"It's a visual experience that uses movement to energize the audience," Mr. Pendleton said. "It's very illusionistic, like a dream scape of physical imagery, visual art. It gives the audience a lighter step when they leave. It doesn't tell a story; it's entertaining, humorous."

Lynne Nemeth, managing director of the festival, first caught their act on a trip to New York in December.

"They're fabulous," she said. "When I saw them I said, 'We have to bring them to the festival.' They're very athletic, beautiful, visually exciting -- real different."

Mr. Pendleton is a co-founder of that other offbeat dance company, Pilobolus Dance Theatre, which performed at the festival three years ago.

"This [Momix] is extending Pilobolus -- Pilobolus uses bodies as props, Momix uses props as bodies, combining bodies to create other imagery," Mr. Pendleton said.

"Pilobolus is [the name of] a fungus, Momix is something you sprinkle on a fungus to make it hop, something you put on your breakfast cereal to give you extra zip. It used to be fed to veal calves. Momix gives [dance] more zip."

And zip it does. The collection of 15 one- to three-minute pieces is rapidly paced in a 90-minute program that includes intermission.

"The music changes from classical to rock, rap, new age, and silence," the 44-year-old choreographer said. "Each piece has a different score. If you don't like it, you don't have to wait for it to change.

"The music keeps moving and the show never stops. It almost seems like MTV. It looks like you're looking at a Picasso ink drawing in a state of metamorphosis."

The combination of humor and speed lends a vaudeville quality to the quirky production.

"The acts are visual puns, very concentrated images," he said. "They are two to three-minute dramas and an hour's worth of fantasy."

The dancer in "Circle Walker: Leonardo In Motion," for example, integrates with a huge wheel.

"The way it roles, it allows the body to move in space in a way you wouldn't be able to see without the wheel," Mr. Pendleton said. "It seems like sculpture or painting that is moving."

"Skiva," about a "sensual, sexy couple on skis" is just your basic boy meets girl on the slopes kind of plot -- searching singles moving to the score of King Sunny Ade and his African Beat played at half-speed to give the song an "underwater quality," he said.

But because their feet are locked on skis, the frustrated couple can only reach out to each other by leaning.

"It's taking leaning to an absurd level," Mr. Pendleton said. "Instead of dancing cheek to cheek, they are dancing chin to chin. The torso is moving. The audience sees that with those limitations -- it focuses you on the relationships between the two."

In the erotic "Venus Envy," two semi-nude "Botticelli female forms" clothed only in side lights are clamoring over the same space to the music of Henry Purcell.

"As the show opens, so does the aria," he said. "As the show closes, so does the clam."

The dancers become part of the clam's mouth. "They are like the tongue metamorphosing into various designs into one elongated nymph," he explained.

"When she opens her mouth, the clam opens its mouth, each yawning -- a yawn within a yawn. It's very absurd, ironic and funny."

BTC The illusion of "Momix," the number named for the troupe, is a man in a white suit who dances "as if he has no bones, using a stick as a third leg to locomote himself," Mr. Pendleton said.

The piece, performed to rap and reggae, was the first developed by Mr. Pendleton for the company and premiered at the closing ceremonies he choreographed for the 1983 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid.

Mr. Pendleton, who grew up on a dairy farm in Vermont, created most of the program's material while spending time in his sunflower garden developing ideas "to see how other environments create an environment for us to create in," he said.

"I will spend two hours in the lake to experience another gravity so I can go to the studio clear-headed."

In addition to the weekend performance, Mr. Pendleton will lead a master class for about 40 county dance students at noon today at Wilde Lake High School, though he hasn't decided on the format.

"The dancers need to have an open mind and body," he said. "We will work on composition technique. But I'm not quite sure what we will do yet. I will first see who shows up."

The 1993 Columbia Festival of the Arts will present danc performances by Momix at 8 p.m. today and at 2 p.m. tomorrow at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia.

General admission is $15; tickets are $8 for students.

The Moses Pendleton Master Class for student dancers begins at noon today at Wilde Lake High School.

The public may observe the class at no cost.

Box office: 715-3055.

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