Los Angeles, California
February 5, 2000
Reviewed by Donna Perlmutter
Moses Pendleton made his mark as a master of trompe l’oeil. Indeed, this human kaleidoscope of a dancer/acrobat/choreographer personifies the now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t genre of stagecraft. Since the Pilobolus co-founder started MOMIX, he has managed to keep the antic spirit of the original, endlessly reinventing himself and his work in every aspect of theatrical/cinematic enterprise. At his best, he bridges the distance between his lifelong influences Antonin Artaud and the Marx Brothers. But every so often, he misses.
That’s what happened with Passion, an evening-length opus meant to suggest the evolution of the species, and dominated by the Peter Gabriel score that was written for Martin Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ. More often than not the piece looks like a knock-off of Cirque du Soleil; it seems to take its main energy from the relentlessly psychedelic, new-age/world music. That, and the murky scrim that features at least twenty or so projected changing images, outdelivers the assortment of stunts and shticks Pendleton choreographed for his eight-member ensemble?though without much sense of integration.
Some of us wonder what happened to his wonted wit and whimsy. In the past Pendleton’s literary mind has merged with his body conundrums?yielding such pieces as Venus Envy and Debut C, subtitled “Afternoon of a Prawn.” Here the mood is ceremonial and/or lugubrious. The twenty-one titles sound like biblical references but somehow their pictorializations lack gravitas; they’re mere acrobatic assemblages, darkly lit and often dehumýnized. What we see repeatedly, as the performers cavort in nudelike body stockings, are bent-over dancers, their legs straightened and facing upstage (with torsos out of sight)?like the hindquarter view of horses standing.
Has Pendleton turned this part of the anatomy into a fetish? Luckily he cuts away to other perspectives; for instance, a crucifixion scene with three ropes in lieu of crosses on which the choreographer and two other robed/hooded dancers go through some thoroughly dramatic maneuverings. Otherwise, he trots out an assortment of folk dance specialties, like an Asian ribbon number, making the piece seem like a string of unrelated vignettes.