Entertainment » Theatre

Pilobolus Dance Theatre: Azimuth

by Lewis Whittington
Contributor
Tuesday Jan 22, 2013
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Pilobolus Dance Theater
Pilobolus Dance Theater  (Source:John Kane)

Pilobolus Dance Theatre": Azimuth packs them in at Dance Celebration, as one of the first acrobatic, conceptual dance companies to carve a strong, influential following here. After two decades they are more popular than ever and returned to the Annenberg Center last week. DC Artistic Director Randy Swartz noted that this was their best-sold show.

For the uninitiated, the name refers to a fungus and those amorphous shapes are occasional bipeds, but in some pieces, that is almost a rarity.

This sampler concert was a mix of mostly new works starting with "Azimuth" choreographed by Renee Jaworski, Michael Tracy and Michael Moschen. The title means vanishing point at horizon.

The tableau creates a galaxy of suspended orbs, rings and dance arcs. The main prop was a steel ring that the dancers partnered to hypnotic effect. There were dance hi-jinx with stacks of dancers’ heads and ’follow that ball on the liquid’ body tricks. The performance played out a bit long, but delighting the kids in the audience (and those of us who think like one).

Next was a creepy silhouette dance, "Transformation." This is a new work in silhouette that has a young lass transformed rather brutally into a cute hound. This is as scary as a Rorschach test as she is morphed by a giant hand into a Huckleberry Hound and sent on her way. Huge laughs from those kids in the audience, even if some of us ancients cringed.

"Gnomen" by Robby Barnett and Jonathan Wolken (a company founder who died in 2010) is a dazzlingly macabre of acrobatic contortionism for four male dancers.

"Gnomen" by Robby Barnett and Jonathan Wolken (a company founder who died in 2010) is a dazzlingly macabre of acrobatic contortionism for four male dancers. The men are interlocked and roll on the stage, spill out from each other and each is singled out for some limb-twisting, or pugilistic game that is cartoon brutal. One is pounded on the head with fists (scored to a gong) and then appears electrified. Another is knotted up and has to try to escape, headless, on one hand and one foot.

Soon though it turns into a scenario that suggests ritualized passage. Three dancers float the fourth in diver twister patterns in gentle slow motion, or they gently spiral around each other. They execute a back bending sequence that keeps evolving into gorgeous body capes and both the energy field and fleshy precision hypnotize us.

Choreographer Trish Sie’s "All Is Not Lost" has the troupe skidding, diving and crawling atop a glass-top scaffolding with a video feed shooting them live from below and projected on a screen. It is a reverse Busby Berkeley kaleidoscope effect that skewers your perspective. Their limb geometrics were seen on a screen beside them the inverse perspective and the results were up close and hilarious.

A computer tech problem changed the program a bit for "Skyscrapers" and was switched out for the 2012’s "Automaton" created by Jaworski, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and some of the performers. This is a robot scenario that unfolds with dancers in kid gloves and pop locking in standard robotic fare for this troupe.

A ponderous middle with dancers moving in and out of mirror panels starts to work on the senses, then the choreographer just uncorks into a series of sensuous duets and groupings. Shirts come off and the music goes from electro-pulse to an elegiac orchestral by Max Richter. Are these automaton allowed to be flesh and blood, with a full set of emotions? Is that where we are as a society, even less human than fungus? This is an instant Pilobolus classic and this audience knew it.

Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.

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