Watching innovative dance company Pilobolus Dance Theater is like witnessing a gorgeous landscape unfold before your eyes. Except this is a landscape of bodies and the way they use them is astounding. Blending dance, acrobatics and other physical forms of theatre, Pilobolus has created their own unique stamp on the dance world. Currently performing two different programs at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, encompassing nine pieces and including a collaboration with magicians Penn & Teller, the eight performers of Pilobolus present a thrilling night of theatre.
Each of the five pieces presented in program A is completely unique, and evokes its own sensibility and style. Incorporating multimedia, magic, acrobatics, circus arts and more, Pilobolus shows how limitless the human body can be. The sensual “On the Nature of Things” features Dance Captain Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern, Antoine Banks-Sullivan and Jordan Kriston as they slowly writhe and entangle their bodies to the arias of Vivaldi, standing on a two-foot wide pedestal wearing nothing but thongs. Instead of feeling overtly sexual, the lissome bodies of the dancers elicit strength, beauty and desire.
“All Is Not Lost” (performed by Banks-Sullivan, Krystal Butler, Benjamin Coalter, Derion Loman, Sayer Mansfield, and Teo Spencer) is the companion to the music video by rock band OK Go. It’s a playful and energetic piece that recreates the amazing visual effects used in the video. Using a glass platform with a videocamera underneath that projects onto a screen, it creates kaleidoscope effects when the performers slide, jump and do other whimsical things with their bodies on the platform. It gives the audience multiple perspectives as they can switch between watching the performers on the platform and watching the video that is simultaneously filming them from underneath.
“Thresh|Hold” (performed by Ahern, Coalter, Kriston, Loman, Spencer) utilizes a moving door and frame illuminated by an ethereal light. The piece centers on a pair of lovers (Ahern and Kriston) as they are seemingly torn apart and reunited, only to be separated again. The door provides an apt metaphor for passing through and between stages of longing and loss. One of the more solemn pieces of the night, this is also one of the most evocative.
The piece created with Penn & Teller, “[esc],” is an interesting departure from what you’d expect of a dance troupe. Matching classic Houdini-esque maneuvers with humorous narration by Penn & Teller, the performers proceed to tie, chain, and apply duct tape to bind their colleagues into impossible-to-get-out-of situations. They enlist two volunteers from the audience to help build a box that they lock Coalter inside, and make sure there isn’t anything tricky going on. Ahern and Banks-Sullivan are then handcuffed to each other in intertwined chains around an 11-foot pole. Loman is hog-tied and stuffed inside a duffel bag. Butler duct-tapes Kriston to a chair. As the performers one-by-one get themselves out of their respective bindings, the audience looks on in wonder and amazement.
The final piece, “Rushes,” pairs the simplicity and specificity of movement with a unique aesthetic that reminded me of what a gathering of hobos might look like. Six of the company members use props such as chairs (at one point, Ahern literally wears a bunch of chairs), a suitcase and a hanging light bulb to create a dim atmosphere. The imagery is stark and earthy. The dancers’ movements precise and fluid.
In between each piece, as the next one is being set up, are shown short videos created by the Pilobolus team, demonstrating just what a cutting-edge company this is. For two magical hours, the definition between dance, media, theatre and illusion becomes blurred.