“The exploration of life’s mysteries is what keeps us interested, keeps us continuously going in”- Michael Tracy, Pilobolus founder as interviewed by Rose Eichenbaum, 2001
I am thrilled to be heading to Iowa City this weekend for some performances with Common Thread Contemporary Dance Company, but not so thrilled that I will be missing Pilobolus as they stop in St. Louis.
Everyone knows Pilobolus for their imaginative, architectural work. Here are a few lesser known interesting facts about this world-famous group:
1. The company was started by six people (Moses Pendleton, Martha Clarke, Alison Chase, Jonathan Wolken, Robby Barnett, and Michael Tracy) after a dance class at Dartmouth College. Alison taught the class. No one besides Alison and Martha had previous dance experience.
2. Pilobolus refers to a sun-loving fungus (phototropic zygomycete to be precise) that grows in barnyards and pastures (cough cough, often out of manure). Early efforts of the company explored movement with graphic and kinetic imagery beyond that of humans on a stage with references to cellular life, insects, and animals. I personally enjoy the idea of a lovely plant emerging from you-know-what, kind of how one of the most prolific and sought-after companies of our time was born from mostly non-dancers.
3. The four directors (Tracy, Chase, Wolken, Barnett) strive to infuse his or her individuality into the creative process although they choreograph as a collective unit
4. I’ve taken their Master class (and yes, made the visiting artists autograph my ‘Masters of Movement’ book)
A few of the company members came to Butler to offer a small master class when I was a senior. It was one of the most strange, creatively stretching, laughable, and frustrating dance experiences of my life. I remember one exercise where a group of my fellow students were lined up and pointed to one at a time to describe how they had started their day, what they had for breakfast, etc. I’m pretty sure I remember my friend Kevin James mentioning something about a dirty cold burrito. The other half had to sit and observe and then point out the things we heard and saw from amidst the chaos of everyone talking at once. My favorite memory of the class was being picked up and thrown over the shoulder of the amazing Jun Kuribayashi and carted around upside down for a few minutes. What a way to travel! Then we were split into groups and began working on choreography ourselves. I don’t remember if we were given themes to work from. Mostly what I remember is having a very different opinion than one other person in my group, and that two other group members had zero input what-so-ever. Perhaps this was the moment that I learned I don’t play well with other children. I don’t know how this group has stayed together, creating wonderful work as a collective voice, for over forty years without tearing each other’s heads off. Then the company members surprised us with the musical selection to accompany our movement. I recall that my group had ‘girls just wanna have fun’ while other groups had classical or electronica.
I also remember one group that basically held hands and twisted about each other in a serpentine line making animal noises- my incredibly handsome and talented friend Tim mooing like a milking cow at the top of his lungs, the most serious and studious person in my class, Kristen, finishing the dance with a decided, ‘Shh!’ Their piece was collaborative, cohesive, funny, and interesting, much like what I associate with Pilobolus. Maybe the trick to working as a creative group is leaving the human behind and letting the animal in us come forth and speak.
The upcoming show certainly looks like it will be full of creative exploration in theme, sound and stage, and of course, movement. I’m especially bummed to miss the all male quartet Gnomen, even more so if Jun happens to be dancing. Someone please keep an eye out for him. You’ll be doing yourself and me a favor.
Here’s a sneak peak at what they’re bringing to The Touhill (get tickets!) this Friday and Saturday, November 9 ( 8 pm) and 10 (2, 8 pm)!
SKYSCRAPERS (2012) – Set against the gritty, saturated colors of LA’s Eastside streets, this quick-change tango choreographed by Trish Sie follows a never-ending, always-changing journey, drenched in overtones of love, romance, and loss.
I won’t be able to review this one so I’m counting on my fellow St. Louisans to go see it and tell me all about it!