Pilobolus, the creative avant-garde dance company, performed July 9 at the Music Center at Strathmore, and again, proved why the troupe is revered around the world.
Known for its innovative choreography, dazzling surrealism and superhuman strength, the company of seven dancers performed five works that explored various ways of testing the limits of human physicality. Coupled with colorful images projected on a screen, the dances ranged from playful to sensual to lyrically acrobatic as the members used their bodies as an expressive medium.
Pilobolus was founded in 1971 by a group of college jocks at Dartmouth College who joined a dance class to fulfill an academic requirement. Blessed with both physical strength and a Monty Python-like humor, the students came up with the group’s quirky name. It originally comes from a fungus that grows on cow dung that propels itself with extraordinary strength, accuracy and speed.
Performances are characterized by the physical interaction between the performers’ bodies and the contortions of their physiques. The skill required calls for extreme strength, flexibility and athleticism, along with exquisite timing and teamwork.
The program began with “Untitled,” a strange, Victorian-era world where two women can rise to twice their height. After being interrupted in a garden by a pair of men, the women “gave birth” to another pair of men, and the six characters interacted as the women grew older.
The piece, performed by Nathaniel Buchsbaum, Quincy Ellis, Zachary Eisenstat, Heather Favretto and Jacob Michael Warren, also featured Krystal Butler, a graduate of Washington, D.C.’s Duke Ellington High School of the Performing Arts.
A short video introduced each subsequent dance, including “Pilobolus is a Fungus” projecting images on a screen of how the fungus grows. Favretto and Warren next took to the stage for the 2001 piece “Symbiosis.” As the dancers twirled, rolled and shifted their weight upon the other, their movements suggested a romantic, intimate relationship. At times, however, the two seemed uncommunicative and alienated. The emotional duet ended with no seeming resolution.
“Warp and Weft” featured music by Falls Church, Virginia native Thao Nguyen and showcased Butler, Favretto and Casey Howes. The three women danced playfully together, and a huge swath of red cloth added a variety of creativity in the performance as Nguyen’s upbeat music filled the space.
The 1997 piece “Gnomen” was skillfully danced by Buchsbaum, Eisenstat, Ellis and Warren, who rolled onto the stage, seemingly one mass of body and limbs. The piece evoked male dominance as three men seemed to join together against a fourth man who, isolated and humiliated, crouched in despair.
“Branches,” one of the group’s newest works, ended the evening and was a celebration of nature, scored entirely with natural sound. The piece explored the competition between animals and the oneness and connection between humans as the dancers (Buchsbaum, Butler, Ellis, Favretto, Howes and Warren) spectacularly vaulted and tumbled over each other.
The company surprised the audience with a delightful encore by humorously slip-sliding on water across the stage. It was a perfect ending to a stellar performance and proof of why the company has been embraced fervently around the world.