May 9, 2006

Joyce Theater, NYC

May 9–28, 2006

Reviewed by Emily Macel and Sarah Keough


Mesmerizing, n.: attracting and holding interest as if by a spell; see also MOMIX. The moving art and architecture that Moses Pendleton’s 20-year-old dance troupe creates with the dancers’ bodies cannot be solely defined as mesmerizing, but it’s a good start. Also muscular, full of momentum, trusting, and shocking fit the bill.

The first week of the company’s Joyce run was devoted to Passion (1991), a multimedia work in 21 segments performed by five dancers. Pendleton, co-founder of Pilobolus, choreographed to the intense mix of orchestral music, chanting, and synthesized rock in Peter Gabriel’s score for the Scorsese film The Last Temptation of Christ. A downstage scrim provided space for images, ranging from close-ups of a sunflower’s core or male torso to military group photographs or Egyptian portraits. The dancers melted into these images; at one point, wearing silver unitards with hoods, they became extraterrestrial beings moving through the maze of the human brain.

Although the score suggests the biblical story, the dance—aside from a floating Christ figure balancing on a trapeze of sorts and two suspended women in red, hooded robes—focused more on the passion of life, of man’s relationship to nature.

The lighting, by Pendleton, Bruce Goldstein, and Mitchell Levine, cascaded the dancers’ shadows onto the scrim, doubling the performers onstage. In a section in which nearly nude dancers ran across the stage, completely hidden behind white, spinning umbrellas, the once opaque props revealed the dancers’ silhouettes when the lighting changed. Using each other as extensions of their own bodies, the dancers transformed themselves into four-legged or eight-armed creatures. These theatrical elements elevated the movements to a mix of soaring, twisting, defined bodies. —E.M.

Lunar Sea
is like a David Bowie moon-age daydream in kaleidoscope vision. Dancers move behind a screen of projected psychedelic plant patterns. A black-light glow illuminates the white half of their costumes and leaves their black halves in the dark. They’re like half-humans who, in partnership, become whole creatures. They whirl and spin and flip to create illusions of impossible jumps and bizarre shapes. They are mudflap girls, witches on broomsticks, sea anemones. At one point, they go from slinky, sexy jellyfish to madonnas on the half-shell with one deft flick of their umbrellas.

The scrim separates the audience from the dancers, and the distance makes it hard to focus. There are moments of zooming in: a couple in gold bikinis on a red stage can’t seem to part; which is the parasite and which is the host? And there are moments of seeing the whole picture: The stage becomes an otherworldly seascape, and the dancers are bioluminescent organisms playing in the waves. See —S.K.