Pilobolus consistently pushed the possibilities of human movement at the Annenberg Center

March 10, 2011

Dance of Chance

By Deni Kasrel

City Paper

March 10, 2011

Pilobolus is known for impressive feats of stagecraft, but last Saturday night's performance was extra notable because it was unplanned.

It came about after one of their dancers was seriously injured during the final piece of the Saturday matinee. Consequently, all but one of the selections she appeared in got scrapped for the remainder of show's run here. Four works from the repertoire were quickly rehearsed and then performed with such aplomb you wouldn't have known anything was amiss were it not for the pre-show announcement about changes to the program, including how Renee Jaworski, the company's associate artistic director, would be pinch-dancing.

The revised program offered an entertaining survey of the varied creative inclinations of this fabulously imaginative company. With the vaudevillian Walklyndon (1971), one of Pilobolus' earliest works, you see how the troupe exuded a zany streak from the outset: Six dancers continuously crisscrossed the stage while engaging in a series of pratfalls, missed handshakes and frolicsome fun.

The Transformation (2009) offered a splendid example of how the company creates outlandish (and outstanding) visuals through shadows and light. Behind a scrim, a huge hand descends upon a female, initially pulling off her head, and then after some quick twists, reshaping her body into a dog to be played with. As often happens with Pilobolus' truly fantastical works, The Transformation elicited audible "ahs" of amazement.

Along with shadow play, Pilobolus is likely best known for its ability to architect the human form in extraordinary ways. Images of multiple bodies entwining in fascinating configurations are highlights of the company's popular wall calendars, and watching such constructions evolve live on stage is a treat. Yet the lyrical Gnomen (1997), featuring four muscular males, goes further — there's an obvious theme about intimacy of relationships and how we support one another in times of need.

With these and three other selections, Pilobolus consistently pushed the possibilities of human movement. Certain moves seemed improbable, if not impossible, yet we can see them with our own eyes. And although some of the night's works were serious, the company's underlying attitude is always one of playful exploration.