Three premieres, “A Selection,” “Uno, Dos, Tray,” and “Femme Noire,” each dramatically different in mood and meaning, will highlight the return of Pilobolus Dance Theatre for its annual month of performances at The Joyce Theater, July 5-31. In all, the troupe will present 13 dances spanning 25 years.
Marking Pilobolus’s first collaboration with authors/artists Maurice Sendak and Arthur Yorinks, “A Selection” is a darkly theatrical work for the company’s six performers, who also collaborated on the choreography. The narrative, created by Sendak, Yorinks, and Pilobolus artistic directors Robby Barnett, Michael Tracy and Jonathan Wolken, tells of a troupe of players who miss their village’s last train out of Nazi Germany. A stranger’s sudden appearance among them at the station adds another dimension of suspenseful drama to the story. Sendak designed the costumes and set. The music is by Czech composers Hans Krasa and Pavel Haas, both of whom died in concentration camps during World War II. Special sound effects are by Robert Bielecki. The dance is dedicated to the memory of the Italian Jewish scientist Primo Levi.
In marked contrast to “A Selection” is Alison Chase’s “Uno, Dos, Tray,” a playful, teasing trio that tells of the flirtation between two soldiers on leave and a waitress at the café at their port of call. The third premiere, “Femme Noire,” is a sultry solo for Rebecca Anderson, who collaborated with Ms. Chase and Rebecca Stenn on the choreography. Both works have original scores by composer Paul Sullivan.
The engagement will also include last year’s hilarious duet, “Orangotango” by Alison Chase, as well as “Apoplexy,” by Robby Barnett, Michael Tracy and Jonathan Wolken, which affirms Pilobolus’s uncanny acrobatic wizardry to create alternately lyrical and mysterious dances about love and its sometimes combative edge. Pilobolus newcomer Josie Coyoc will perform Alison Chase’s sensually athletic “Solo,” created in 1997 to an original electric guitar score by David Mills.
“Particle Zoo,” the wildly surprising and gymnastically gutsy hit from 1990, will be performed, along with “The Hand That Mocked, The Heart that Fed,” whose title comes from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias.” The dance, which premiered last year, offers a self-portrait of the characters portrayed in the piece. The music is by jazz composer Maria Schneider. Michael Tracy and Alison Chase’s “Pyramid of the Moon,” a duet, humorous, eerie and mysterious, is set to a score by Patrick Smith. Recalling Pilobolus’s beginnings is “Pseudopodia,” created by Jonathan Wolken in 1974, an intensely acrobatic solo whose rolling and twisting movement suggests “an eternally tumbling tumbleweed.”
What else is up the communal Pilobolean sleeve this season? There will be “Aeros,” created in 1996 by Robby Barnett, Alison Chase, Michael Tracy and Jonathan Wolken. Magical in spirit and set to a score by Paul Sullivan, the dance tells with sweet wit of a lost pilot who finds himself among a colorful group of bemused, but good natured aliens. Also scheduled is the all-male “Gnomen,” which offers a touching and disarming look at four different characters, each dependent on the others in a different way. A dignity, innocent nobility and sense of fatality is suggested in these various forms of dependency. The music, an original commissioned score, is by Paul Sullivan. And finally, there is the beloved classic “Day Two,” whose water-sliding finale inevitably gets its performers all wet and brings its cheering audience to its feet.
Performing at The Joyce Theater will be Rebecca Anderson, Josie Coyoc, Otis Cook, Matt Kent, Gaspard Louis and Benjamin Pring.
Famed for being named after a genus of phototropic fungus, Pilobolus was founded in 1971 by Dartmouth undergraduates Moses Pendleton and Jonathan Wolken, who met in a dance class taught by Alison Chase. Steve Johnson, also an original Pilobolus member, left to become a brain surgeon in Denver. The duo was soon joined by Robby Barnett, followed by Ms. Chase and Martha Clarke in 1973, and Michael Tracy in 1974. Currently, the company is headed by artistic directors Barnett, Chase, Tracy and Wolken.
In 1991, the company inaugurated the Pilobolus Institute, an outreach program providing educational services which has already completed over 100 weeks of service to schools, colleges, and universities, including projects for the Cleveland School for the Arts, the Juilliard School, the Connecticut Board of Education and The Joyce Theater Dance Education Program, as well as an ongoing residency in the theater department at Yale University.
Pilobolus has received several prestigious honors, including the Scotsman Award for its performances at the Edinburgh Festival; the Berlin Critics Prize; the New England Theatre Conference Prize; the Brandeis Award; the Connecticut Commission on the Arts Award for Excellence; and, in 1997, an Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Cultural Programming. Individually, several of Pilobolus’s artistic directors have been awarded Guggenheim Fellowships and have choreographed for and set works on other companies, including those of La Scala, the Paris Opera Ballet, Berlin Opera, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Royal Danish Ballet, Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, Netherlands Dance Theater, American Ballet Theater, The Joffrey Ballet, Italy’s Verona Ballet and the Ballet National de Nancy et de Lorraine. Pilobolus was commissioned to create a new “Nutcracker” for Ballet du Rhin in France, which was premiered in Mulhouse in February 1993.