Pilobolus was worth the wait

Troupe last played Durango in ’06

From left: Nile H. Russell, Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern, Manelich Minniefee, and Jun Kuribayashi of Pilobolus rehearse before Tuesday night’s performance at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

From left: Nile H. Russell, Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern, Manelich Minniefee, and Jun Kuribayashi of Pilobolus rehearse before Tuesday night’s performance at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College.

We use the word dance to describe movement that’s fluid, rhapsodic, lyrical, impassioned – motion with a certain flow of tension and release. On Tuesday night at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College, Pilobolus Dance Theatre displayed a dimension of dance that has not yet been defined and can hardly be believed.

The body has limitations, but not for this troupe of lusty contortionists. Gravity was defied, musculature taxed beyond conceivable limits, stamina ridiculed. And then there was the dancing, the beautiful and erotic dancing.

Pilobolus is made up of four male and two female dancers. Their résumés read like the dancers of the major ballet companies, each achieving advanced degrees in dance, all studying with masters in the field, but everyone gravitating to Pilobolus to push the envelope of an art that’s evolved predictably and with heretofore plodding innovation. This is an ensemble of artists who together have invented rapturous entertainment the likes of which hasn’t before been explored or theoretically possible.

What makes the choreography unique is its genesis in physics and engineering. What the packed Concert Hall audience saw this week was a sophisticated contraption assembled from specimens of the human body, put into motion by engineers of conveyance and geniuses of modern dance. All that was missing was levitation, and it’s certain that they’re working on it.

The program consisted of unrelated vignettes, each more audacious than the last and all dramatically lighted and scored with simple, breathtaking effect.

The show opened with the four male dancers, shirtless and evocative of masculine symmetry achieved only by early Italian sculptors. We were to find out that these figurines were not for show but for work. Their humorous routine was gymnastic in essence and pure dance in nature, reminiscent of a silent film combined with what might be seen from a slide under a microscope – pratfalls mixed with fluidity of chaos.

The second piece was a clever scene of a modestly dressed young woman standing in front of a full-stage scrim when an enormous hand descends to tease her and eventually envelop her, a moment later to be released in the form of a seated dog, plucked back again and redeposited on stage as if awakening from a dream.

Next was a triumph of balance and brute strength by the two women dancers, Eriko Jimbo and Jordan Kriston, which will be remembered for its sensual arousal and submission to love. It was very beautiful, and these two women, especially Jimbo, proved to be the most accomplished dancers in the company.

After intermission, which gave the audience their first chance to breathe, Pilobolus ratcheted up to rarefied air with two extraordinary works that combined were created and choreographed by a total of 29 people, including collaboration with the MIT Distributed Robotics Laboratory. The first piece, “Seraph,” is a 2010 addition to the ensemble and is a most lovely dance between Matt Del Rosario and two flying saucers. That’s right, flying saucer. It was a love triangle, replete with jealousy, threats, submission and, ultimately, rejection. The “quadroters’’ were captained remotely by two of the ensemble male dancers and indeed were dancing, to lilting Franz Schubert chamber music. After the wonderment of these flying, blinking space ships receded, the love story prevailed to a heartbreaking conclusion.

The final presentation was the most ambitious in its use of props, including an animated film and more than a dozen wooden chairs that were pushed, dragged, flung and rearranged to a vaudevillian medley, eventually to entangle one dancer so completely that every step brought along every chair.

There was no end to the creativity of Pilobolus until the curtain closed for the final time and the audience had the first opportunity to express its appreciation with a prolonged standing ovation. Pilobolus is stunning.

Jeff Mannix is a local journalist and author. Reach him at JeffMannix.com.