Don't Underestimate Pilobolus

July 16, 2014

Pilobolus sometimes gets a bad rap in the modern dance world. People like to complain that “they’ve sold out,” or “they’re just a bunch of tricks.”


But watching the company’s opening night at The Joyce Theater this week, I couldn’t help thinking to myself, These guys are onto something.


What struck me first was the creative genius that went into the work. Between the five pieces, there was a wealth of inventiveness on display. None felt redundant; each one brought you into an entirely different world (a feat that few modern dance companies master). And each was crafted with an incredible level of care and attention to detail, even if the main choreographic tools used were simplistic crowd-pleasers: magic tricks, shadow illusions, gymnastics, gratuitous nudity (not to mention preternaturally good-looking dancers).


As I listened to the jaded New York modern dancer I brought with me giggle and “ooh” throughout the night, I started to appreciate the pure commercial genius of the company as well. I can’t say that any of the pieces taught me about the complexities of human nature, or moved me in any deep, emotional way. Yet they were perfectly calibrated to appeal to a lighter side. I simply enjoyed them. And I kind of loved that, to keep the audience entertained during set changes, we got to watch short films that had nothing to do with dance—they felt like the artier selections from a hipster’s well-cultivated YouTube channel. It was the kind of show I could bring anyone off the street to, and it would be even more accessible than “So You Think You Can Dance.”


Sure, Pilobolus might be the modern dance equivalent of strawberry cheesecake. But don’t underestimate the amount of talent it takes to make really good cheesecake—or what other appetites it might inspire.