Every summer the unique and original Pilobolus dance company returns to the Joyce Theater to treat New York to its unusual blend of dance, theatre and circus. Now through August 6th the company rotates through a program of dance pieces that span the history of the company, mixing past classics with brand new offerings. Although this is the first season that company co-founder and former Artistic Director, Jonathan Wolken, is no longer with us, his presence is felt in the signature dances as well as the exploratory nature of new pieces. One such piece is “Seraph,” which mixes dancer Matt Del Rosario with two amazing little flying robots who seem to have personalities––R2D2 might have a crush. The robots are the creation of Daniel E. Soltero, Daniela Rus and Wil Selby, who are all electronics engineers from MIT. This is exactly the kind of unlikely collaboration that makes the Pilobolous experience special and continually surprising. Besides Del Rosario, the company includes Shawn Fitzgerald, Winston Dynamite Brown, Eriko Jimbo, Jordan Kriston, Jun Kuribayashi and Nile H. Russell––all strong and beautiful dancers.
The company began in 1971 as a kind of outlaw dance company, but quickly became popular due to its distinctive style. Sometimes more experimental with ideas rather than any form of traditional dance, the company asks dancers to stretch their limits and defy expectations in the dance world. Based in Washington Depot, CT, the company now tours the world with several companies of dancers and is in its 40th year. The pieces are created in a collaborative manner with choreographers guiding a process that takes input from the dance company as well as outside the discipline artists such as the team from MIT.
In the piece, “Hapless Hooligan in ‘Still Moving,’” reprised from last season, dancers cohabitate with projected animation created by Art Spiegelman, the editor of RAW, the avant-garde comics and graphics magazine. The dancers, shown as silhouettes as well as in three dimension before a screen, seemed to be manipulating the drawings as much as the drawings seemed to manipulate them. The piece is short on actual dance, but high on humor and innovation.
“Tsu-Ku-Tsu” from 2000 and “Shizen” from 1978 presented the more familiar style of dance from the company which emphasizes amazing body contortions and acts of balance. Any of these dancers are ready for Cirque du Soleil, but we’re awfully glad they’ve found a home with Pilobolus. The combination of these dances, along with many others in rotation on separate evenings, makes a thoroughly entertaining production filled with variety.
The production is created by a huge list of artists, but the choreographers at the helm are Steven Banks, Alison Becker Chase, Martha Clarke, Takuya Muramatsu, Moses Pendleton, Inbal Pinto, and Avshalom Pollak. Pilobolus is always a surprise and continues its remarkable brand of dance performance in the same exemplary way that first made the company famous in the 1970s.