Pilobolus keeps delivering at the Annenberg Center

March 7, 2011

Classics or the brand-new, Pilobolus keeps delivering

By Nancy G. Heller

For The Inquirer

Sat. March 5, 2011

This is not the Pilobolus of old. Or, rather, it is - but it's also much more. The famously flexible gymnasts/acrobats/dancers opened a four-day run at the Annenberg Center Thursday with a multipart program showcasing both classic compositions and three new pieces, all Philadelphia premieres.

Now in its 40th year, Pilobolus has achieved a new level of fame through television advertisements like the one in which a group of silhouetted dancers metamorphose into the profile of a Honda SUV. The company's current program includes a charming new silhouette piece, The Transformation, in which a woman (Eriko Jimbo) is brought to life by the hand of God - actually, the hand of fellow dancer Nile Russell - which pokes, tickles, and then molds her into a dog, with mismatched ears and a wagging tail.

Redline, another premiere, is the kind of high-energy, technically virtuosic group work most companies use as a program opener. Pilobolus presents it as a finale. Yet no one seems tired, and the fast, brutish, quasi-militaristic movements are riveting.

Longtime Pilobolus fans may recall 1975's Untitled, in which two women (Jimbo and Jordan Kriston) wear long, vaguely Victorian dresses that turn out to have nearly naked men (Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern and Winston Dynamite Brown) hiding underneath. This piece works, thanks to its unexpected combining of broad, good-natured humor with grotesquerie and implied danger. Equally effective is the tender, aggressive, and erotic Duet for the company's two women.

The highlight of the night was the newest work: Hapless Hooligan in "Still Moving." Here, the dancers interact with animated paintings by the "underground comix" master Art Spiegelman. Most live dancer/video work is disappointing, but in this case it works beautifully.

The plot involves a love that literally conquers Death. But the work feels simultaneously fresh, funny, surreal, and bleak because of the expressive dancing of the two leads (Kriston and the gifted Jun Kuribayashi), as they interact with Spiegelman's quirky images. Just as in an actual comic book, when someone gets an idea a lightbulb appears on the screen. But Spiegelman really goes to town with his inventive, surprisingly lush landscapes, and in a scene in which three shower stalls flood, as fish happily swim around inside them.