Pilobolus' performance a thrill though familiar

April 03, 1994|By Charlotte Moler | Charlotte Moler,Contributing Writer

In the world of modern dance, Pilobolus is celebrated for its choreographic chutzpah.

But surprisingly, while the internationally acclaimed dance company's performance at Harford Community College on March 27 was sometimes clever and always entertaining, it never really went over the top.

A collaborative company that lists four artistic directors and credits multiple choreographers for most of its dances, Pilobolus is in its 23rd performance season, a veritable eon in the modern dance time line.

The company's hallmark has been its innovative and original vocabulary of movement. The dancers perform astounding lifts, contortions and gymnastics. They dance in the air and on top of each other and create space sculptures with their limbs.

The effect can be gorgeous or grotesque. One minute you see an undulating Chinese dragon; the next you might see a two-headed monster.

So far this may sound like a side show straight out of Barnum and Bailey, and indeed, this performance only went so far. Rather than emerging from this ingenious technique, the choreography seemed bound to it.

What looked fresh and fantastic at first gradually began to wear, until by the last piece on the program, Pilobolus has used up its bag of tricks.

But, choreography aside, what saved Pilobolus from being a mere novelty act was intelligence, warmth, and considerable charm of the six dancers, with Rebecca Jung of Dundalk deserving special mention.

While the movement could easily have become a mechanical display of human engineering, the dancers' acting ability enabled them to add nuances and create relationships. Interestingly, a perusal of the program notes revealed that several of the dancers hold undergraduate degrees in theater, while others studied philosophy, psychology, and literature.

The program of six dances was, in effect one long adagio. The wonderful exception was the comic solo "Empty Suitor," a delightful piece of theater performed with Chaplinesque grace and wit by Adam Battelstein.

But most of the movement was executed ever so slowly, which made for a very monotonous dream-like quality.

This quality worked in favor of the eerie "Televisitation." A pajama-clad man lay snoring on stage when a night creature slithered in, sized him up and perched on his chest.

The ensuing struggle was a re-enactment of every nightmare and evoked the same queasy feelings of torment and confusion.

Another highlight was the opening "Quartet." Danced to a classical score and enhanced by the romantic lighting design of David Chapman, this light-hearted romp was all gliding and flowing with some lovely lyrical canon sections.

But the standout piece was "Duet," an exploration of the phases of a relationship. In one memorable section, the two women were gripped in a cloying embrace, then violently spun one other in a dizzying series of spirals. When they suddenly stopped, with one woman holding the other in a horizontal freeze, the effect was chilling.

Though perhaps no longer on the cutting edge, Pilobolus remains an influential force in modern dance and it's a thrill to see a dance company of this caliber in Harford County.

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