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Pilobolus is a Fungus | Pilobolus at the Joyce Theater, July 15 – Aug. 10, 2014….

July 30, 2014
Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern, Mike Tyus & Erica Jimbo in Pilobolus’ “On the Nature of Things” Photo: Robert Whitman

Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern, Mike Tyus & Erica Jimbo from Pilobolus in “On the Nature of Things” Photo: Robert Whitman

I had never seen Pilobolus; I had seen the Hyundai Santa Fe Commercial in 2007 and a promo here and there, but to actually have seen the company on stage in their full glory…well, that I had just never got around to until now. Tthe company’s annual month-long run at the Joyce  began July 15 with two programs each 2 hours long. Program A consisted of five works, between each work was some short films. Danielle, courtesy of Anthony Cerniello portrayed the process of a child aging with into a mature woman in 5 minutes and Explosions by courtesy of the Danish TV show “Dumt & Farligt” which was just that, things exploding and captured at 2500 frames per second.

Pilobolus is Theater Company that uses movement to tell stories; it is more physical theater than dance. They use improvisation as the base or rather a tool in which to create the fundamental structure of a work. Sometimes they come into the studio with an idea or a concept, sometimes they in come with nothing, no ideas or concepts but begin “playing”. They begin improvising alone or in groups or pairs until they stumble across something of interest and worth keeping. Then, the Artistic Directors, Robby Barnett and Micheal Tracy will take that “interesting” segment and build onto and/or around it till they have a “statement”,  then they expand upon the that “statement” and in that process create works of great intelligence as well as originality.

One of the most exciting works I have seen in 2014 was the New York premiere of On the Nature of Things, created in collaboration with Pilobolus’ Artistic Directors and the company members. The work was performed that night by Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern, Eriko Jimbo and Mike Tyus and set to vocal music inspired by the classical baroque, by Michelle DiBucci and Ed Bilous.

Mr. Tyus carries Mr. Ahern onto the stage and carefully lays him on a two foot column rising above the stage. Ms. Jimbo and Mr. Tyus soon join Mr. Ahern on the platform; they are moving, lifting and transferring each other with slow continuous movements. I am reminded of the sculptures of Rodin come to life. The positions of pain, suffering, ecstasy and desire found in ancient Greek sculptures flow visually one into the other, never truly stopping. On the Nature of Things is a work of such startling beauty that we the audience sat silent, staring in awe till the last movement ended then we burst to our feet screaming bravos at the top of our lungs…Wow, what a performance, wow, what a work…

The 2013 collaboration [esc] between Pilobolus and magicians Penn & Teller was a bit of a surprise. The stage became a vaudeville-slash-circus with mad attics everywhere. Houdini was mentioned more than once while Jordan Kriston had her wrists and ankles duct taped to a chair.  Mr. Ahern and Matt Del Rosario, wearing very provocative black thongs are chained hand and wrist and then the chains are wrapped around their bodies while they are standing against a stripper’s pole. Ben Coalter is tied into a bag, thrown into a box that is then padlocked. Then they all proceed to attempt to get out of their duct taped bindings, locked boxes and stripper pole chains…which they do…It was all rather chaotic and as brilliant as everything Penn & Teller are associated with.

Jordan Kriston & Derion Loman from Pilobolus in “The Inconsistent Pedaler” Photo: Robert Whitman

Jordan Kriston & Derion Loman from Pilobolus in “The Inconsistent Pedaler” Photo: Robert Whitman

Program B did not pick the same punch as Program A. Program B was still very enjoyable but Program A was/is spectacle. Interesting and very odd was the New York Premiere of The Inconsistent Pedaler. It is a surrealist fable about a girl who rides a bicycle that has the power to speed up and slow down time, The Inconsistent Pedaler is an ingenious collaboration between Pilobolus, fiction writer Etgar Keret, and his wife filmmaker Shira Geffen (both Israeli).

The 20 minute work centers on a bumbling and a somewhat lucid old man (Mr. Ahern) and the trials and tribulations that occur during his 99th birthday party. Many generations of his family are in attendance, all wearing party hats,  patient adults that are used to dealing with over-anxious and easily excited children plus a rather large infant (Nile Russell) who rides a tricycle wearing nothing but his diaper.

Jordan Kriston is a tween/teen on a bicycle that when pedaled can either slow down or speed up time. It is her inconsistency with her pedaling that speeds up or slows down the action; particularly it seems with regards to the old man. It is a fun work but something, somewhere seemed lacking….Program notes would have help…

But anything The Inconsistent Pedaler lacked, All Is Not Lost made up for it. The 2011 work, a partnership with the band OK Go, divides the stage into two sections or areas. On the stage right is a large projection screen and on stage left is a raised platform with a transparent floor with cameras placed underneath. The dancers’ actions and movements are projected through the transparent floor and on to the large screen.

In essence we are getting two views of the dancers in performance, one that is the normal straight ahead and the other with the help of the cameras, from below thru the transparent floor. The only thing I can think of to describe the imagery created is that is kaleidoscope. Bodies moving in sync into odd shapes standing, lying, squatting…It was truly spectacular and a must see for anyone interested in dance and film.

Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern, Mike Tyus & Erica Jimbo from Pilobolus in “On the Nature of Things”

Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern, Mike Tyus & Erica Jimbo from Pilobolus in “On the Nature of Things”

Korokoro (2011), a collaboration with Japanese choreographer Takuya Muramatsu, was startling is its honesty and beauty. The dancers are stripped of everything extraneous and perform in only nude colored dance belts. There is an undeniable candidness of emotion. You see the exquisite shapes and transitions made by the human body…

Mr. Muramatsu’s background is in Butoh. Butoh was a movement that began in Japan in the late fifties. It was rebellion against Western dance and Japanese Traditional dance. It also has its roots in German Expressionism. The Butoh dancer is not concerned with technic but by searching inward for the truth of the movement.


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