As dismayed as I was by the absurd amount of stairs my lazy self had to climb to get to my seat, sitting in the highest section of the Granada Theatre to watch Pilobolus Dance Theatre on Monday, Nov. 17, was well worth the pain. All around me I could see other UCSB dancers, all of us waving hello to one another. The majority of us took a master class from the Pilobolus Dance Theater dancers earlier that day, and we made significant contributions to the buzz of anticipation.
The audience was entranced by Pilobolus long before the show began. Twenty minutes before the official start time, the dancers began to appear onstage and warm up, heedless of the ever-growing number of onlookers. One woman across the aisle from me had even taken out binoculars! I almost didn’t want the show to start — it was so interesting to watch the dancers play with movement.
After the smoothest lowering of a projector screen I have ever witnessed, the show began with a welcoming video featuring two version of Pilobolus: the dancers and the fungus. Pilobolus is a type of fungus particularly known for its spores, which can explode away from the parent fungus at a speed of 90 km per hour. Jonathan Wolken, one of the founders of Pilobolus who passed away in 2010, chose the name.
The first number was entrancing, though the audience was a bit taken aback at the lack of clothing worn by the dancers. With no more than the barest minimum covered up, two men and one woman danced upon a small pedestal. Every muscle was visible even from where I was sitting, all the way at the top. The incredible strength of the dancers who slowly balanced against and lifted each other made me think of Greek gods. Michelangelo ought to be here to make statues of Pilobolus.
From there the company showcased its ingenuity in creation. One dance was seen through a video camera positioned below a glass table upon which the dancers moved. Another featured people at a birthday party going terrible wrong. At the birthday party, there were four people being powered by a bicycle, the way bicycles can power light bulbs, and there was an absurd amount of rubber ducks involved. At the end the stage turned into a gigantic slip ’n’ slide, with actual water on stage that the dancers slid through and spun in. Any twinges of pity I felt for the tech crew was quickly forgotten in light of the enthusiasm of the dancers playing around in the water.
Interspersed throughout the show were many videos. The film clips were hand-selected by Pibolus after a submission process. In the Q&A session that followed, it was explained that the videos were an experiment to incorporate the audience throughout the show. Since the stage was reconfigured between each dance, the one to four minute clips acted as a way to keep the audience engaged, and (hopefully) not checking their cell phones.
Wind, directed by Robert Loebel, was my personal favorite. The clip featured a glimpse into a world with so much wind blowing it was almost as if the forces of gravity had multiplied, pulling not just from below but from the east as well. With babies flying like kites and a whole new method of serving coffee, it is absolutely worth a look!
In response to a question about the “spirit of Pilobolus,” dancers Shawn Ahern and Jordan Kriston described it as the idea of creative play: “I think our interests are really diverse. Some of [our work] is movement, some of it is more abstract, some of it is less abstract, and some of it is more theatrical … as you can see … we collaborate with people from all over,” Ahern said. “Sometimes it’s a rock band, a live version of a music video we made, sometimes it’s MIT distributed robotics lab, sometimes it’s other beautiful choreographers …” the list went on, showing the versatility of Pilobolus’s style of creation.
To learn more about Pilobolus Dance Theatre, its dancers, works, and collaborations, visit their website: http://www.pilobolus.com/home.jsp