“That’s bizarre!” “Oh my goodness!” “What?!” Audience members gasp and exclaim as dancers somersault, melting into each other, twisting and turning organically to form a mass of limbs. The aqua light reflects off their nearly nude bodies, casting dynamic shadows.
Pilobolus, an American modern dance company, pushes the boundaries of dance versus acrobatics. In their Monday night show in Macky Auditorium, they created haunting, primordial scenes, contorting their bodies into bizarre shapes: waddling eyeballs, hulking apes, a gigantic, multi-person sorceress, flowing birds and other anthropomorphic forms.
Founded in 1971 by Dartmouth College students, Pilobolus reinvented modern dance, dividing viewers and critics alike with their cross-genre experiments. The name “Pilobolus” comes from a phototropic fungus, which is known for its hardiness and quick growth. Like their namesake, the dance group’s movements grow organically and quickly, Cirque du Soleil-caliber acrobatics transforming into undulating arms and rotating bodies. Pilobolus thrives on the abstract and the fantastic, often using natural, primitive imagery to tell stories with their bodies.
The show was quirky, though lacking cohesion at first. To begin, audience member Mark helped Pilobolus teach the evolution of the eyeball in “Eye Opening” (2018), which felt like a children’s science video. The dancers wore huge eyeball costumes, dancing around with informational signs and a video camera. The sequence felt whimsical but too academic.
Despite the disjointed beginning, Pilobolus shined for the rest of the performance, doing what they do best: moving intimately and powerfully. In “Gnomen” (1997), four male dancers—Nathaniel Buchsbaum, Quincy Ellis, Paul Liu and Justin Norris—emerged as a human wheel, somersaulting as a huge mass onto the stage. In “Warp and Weft” (2018), three female dancers—Krystal Butler, Heather Favretto and Casey Howes—created a gargantuan, Shiva-like figure, covered with ruby drapery.
The program, subtitled “Come to your senses,” is made of absurd dreams. The dancers’ movements defied gravity and logic, transmogrifying human figures into otherworldly beings. The pieces’ sheer excitement as dancers hurl themselves, hunch, waddle and create impossible angles, was captivating.
Yet, the dancers also explore human dynamics of love, departure, rejection and humor — especially their manifestations in nature. In “Symbiosis” (2001), a man and woman explore an intimate relationship, elegantly erotic, as their bodies rotate and warp around each other. In “Branches” (2017), male dancers become preening, ostentatious birds, even letting out piercing squawks, trying to attract their demure female partners.
Nearly 50 years after its conception, Pilobolus is still revolutionary. They can tell countless narratives with only contortions and balances. With their jagged focal points and dynamic angles, Pilobolus distills animalistic emotions and desires into potent movements, transcending words, moving beyond the limits of physicality, transporting us into the fantastic world of dreams.
Contact CU Independent Assistant Arts Editor Isabella Fincher at firstname.lastname@example.org.