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Pilobolus Dance Company: charming audiences with their je ne sais quoi



You know that feeling you get when you dream you're flying? Well, that’s the feeling created by watching Pilobolus; watching them is like being in a dream world. I imagine the Paul Klee painting "Fish Magic" scene because only in this dream world would underwater skating and roly-poly people co-exist. Pilobolus Dance Company recently performed to a sold out show in Dallas at the AT&T Performing Arts Center's Winspear Opera House. They are known to morph into words, animals, flowers, cars…

Pilobolus is based in Washington Depot, Connecticut and was formed by six Dartmouth College students in 1971. Most of the original dancers are now the artistic directors and the company still remains small like they began with four men and two women. This modern dance troupe turned forty this year. They have appeared on the Tonight Show, Sesame Street, and CBS’s 60 Minutes and performed all over the world receiving numerous awards.
I love the fact that Pilobolus has worked with one of my favorite children’s writer and illustrator, Maurice Sendak. Also impressive and fitting for Pilobolus is their work with the writer for SpongeBob Square Pants, Steven Banks. The dance company has a flair for slapstick so it’s suitable that they worked with Banks who graduated from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College.

Their dance is a mix of athleticism and illusionism. They create art by defying gravity with gymnastics and weight sharing. They are strong…incredibly strong. I’ve always associated Pilobolus with Cirque de Soleil for the way they make you say wow, how did they do that? Everything they do is so filled with magic and wonderment that you can’t help but gasp and say ahh!
Watching them dance is like watching a curious child make a new discovery. I felt like I was in another world…a mysterious underwater or outer-space backdrop where everything is in slow motion. 
Their dancing is poetic; sometimes poetry can be hard to understand, and as with all art, everyone will take and see something in their own way. What I read into most of the dances were the stories were about LOVE…counting on someone you trust to be there for you, to pick you up, hold you, hug you, support you…
My favorite performance of the night was SpongeBob’s writer Banks Transformation, in which a woman is playfully transformed into a half-human/half-dog creature by a giant hand that molds her. Transformation has a puppet-like feel and is whimsically delightful to watch.
Gnomen took me to Africa with it's tribal like feel. It explored balance with four men showing amazing control. Pilobolus breaks the seriousness when you don’t expect it. The audience was tickled when some of the men performing Gnomen pretend to bang the head of their partner to emphasize the gong sound in the musical score by Paul Sullivan.  In the end they raise one man up to the heavens and the audience was led to willingly believe that he would really start floating up.
Duet was a gentle and slow spiral dance that left you feeling calm.  The medieval Norwegian songs also induced a bit of a trance while watching the dancers circle around.
Like many dance companies, Pilobolus gives back to their community and works with children and adults. They like to watch them use their untrained natural abilities to make organic shapes on their own. The company members are teaching creative thinking and how to be both a leader and a follower.
Artistic director of Pilobolus, Robby Barnett says this about making connections outside of the dance floor, “The more I do outside of dance, the more I have to bring to my interest in dance. It’s sort of like cross-training I guess.”

1 comment:

  1. I really liked your review of Pilobolus, and was checking out their site. Turns out they are playing in Austin in February, and lo and behold I just received an email from kayak.com with a seat sale to Austin... and since it's my mom's birthday in February, I promptly booked two tickets to Austin and the show. So... thanks for sending us to Austin to see Pilobolus. :)

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