The contemporary dance troupe Pilobolus came to Tucson last night, courtesy of UA Presents, and performed a show that was by turns breathtaking and light-hearted. Pilobolus was founded in 1971 as an improvisational troupe at Dartmouth College, and has grown to include two touring companies, an educational institute, and a commercial structure that has made commercials, including a widely-seen commercial for Hyundai (below). Their movements are fluid, organic, and very impressive.
The opening and closing numbers had the largest number of dancers and presented the most serious side of Pilobolus. The opener, Aquatica, is a 2005 commission from Dartmouth College, and told an impressionistic tale of a girl at the beach who finds a companion in the waves. The two women frolic in the water, swimming under rocks, riding horses and dolphins, all of which were performed by the four male dancers. At the end, the tide rolls back in and takes the companion back to the waves. It was a beautiful and exhilarating piece, set to the music of Brazilian film composer Marcelo Zarvos. It also set one of the themes of the troupe, which was how two or more bodies can come together to create shapes that are organic but not at all human (the Flash display that introduces their web site contains a number of these shapes). The closing number, Day Two, from 1980, also required six dancers, again, two women and four men, and contained a number of set pieces for three pairs of dancers. There were amazing human sculptures as the mixed couples performed nearly identical movements at the front of the stage, while the remaining couple slowly moved back and forth at the back of the stage in the most unusual poses. The music was from the Talking Heads' Remain in Light, Byrne and Eno's Life in the Bush of Ghosts, and some of Eno's solo work from Another Green World. The numbers set to the Bush of Ghosts music were closely tuned to the religious overtones of the music, even including a stylized and ecstatic call to prayer over a worldbeat reading of the Koran.
The recital included one other new commission (also from Dartmouth College), a duet entitled Memento Mori. A suite of pieces with music ranging from Debussy to Bjork, the two dancers represented an elderly couple looking back on a lifetime together, and was by turns touching and comical. The show was rounded out with two shorter works from Pilobolus' early years, both of which emphasized vaudeville roots in their movements. For the curtain call, they flooded the stage with water and came sliding across the stage in various poses, extending the dance movements even to the most mundane of theatrical activities.