December 16, 2016
Pilobolus makes their performance space (in this case NYU Skirball Center) home by warming up onstage. A piece unto itself, there are moments of diligent conditioning and virtuosic play. The company concludes by hitting one another on the head with a fist through another fist, cracking eggs on skulls. Connoting both delicacy and intensity wrapped in wit, the gesture encapsulates the extremes of work the company continues to offer.
The inner pieces of Program B – Wednesday Morning 11:45, and The Inconsistent Pedaler – showcased theatricality, stretching single moments into physical situations. Wednesday Morning chronicles the making of eggs in a groggy daze, while Pedaler depicts a birthday party, sustainable only if one pedals an exercise bike as a time generator. Next to Shawn Fitzgerald’s kitchen setup is a screen representing the inside view of the box on his counter containing two ostriches who have suspiciously beautifully sculpted dancer legs. Copious exposition gives way to the punchline of ostrich copulation resulting in the eggs that Fitzgerald cooks. The entire work is otherwise decorative buildup of shadow puppet mugging.
Pedaler has more heart, stemming from the struggle of the pedaler only being able to see her family if she pedals, keeping her from ever actually participating until a mysterious tricycle rider ends up entering the scene to give her a break an a moment to join her family in celebrating the birthday, before a fantastic flying sequence leads to the birthday boy receiving the gift of his mortality. Both pieces make up rules as they go along, such that anything seems to be possible. Twists and developments are too convenient, and dramatic tension can never materialize where everything works out for the sake of a good bit.
On either side of these pieces were works that solely showcased virtuosity. Gnomen follows four men testing each other’s limits. Between these spotlights, group partnering portrays them as one composite body, rolling like tumbleweed. The soloists are somewhere between tested and tormented by the rest into walking using only an arm and a leg, and being hoisted upside-down by the arms to resemble a corkscrew. The question of innocence or antagonism becomes irrelevant as each dancer is equally singled out. The overarching exploratory sense is, however, compromised by the rehearsed perfection of the performers themselves, leaving no risk for failure in crystalline calculation.
Day Two, a curious note to end on, takes the abstract bravura exemplified in Gnomen and expands it to include women and vaguely (ergo offensively) tribal imagery set to David Byrne’s riffing on African music. Costuming for both sexes is identical, leaving the women’s breasts unfairly free. Sections for men are obnoxiously hyper-masculine, and women have little agency, especially when the men hoist them on sticks, at the expense of functionality, as some men are shorter than some of the women whose feet are meant to avoid the ground. The piece manages to both showcase the immense strength of the women who deal with such situations, but also depicts them only in relation to men.
Among repertory with multiple choreographers credited to each piece, there is an overarching commonality of the use of incredible skill to divert and please. They may challenge themselves, but they serve the results to us on silvery, heteronormative, and appropriative platters. We are thoroughly entertained, though starved for challenge.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews