Pilobolus Mesmerizes, Entrances, and Excites at The Newman Center

Pilobolus Mesmerizes, Entrances, and Excites at The Newman Center

October 19, 2022 Off By Frankie Rose
Photo courtesy if Pilobolus Archives

Pilobolus has been waiting to captivate The Robert and Judi Newman Center at University of Denver since 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic surprised everyone, slamming performances to a pause of unknown duration. Dancing back onto the public stage for their 50th Anniversary, the famed dance troupe wowed the audience. Using performance pieces from throughout the company’s history, they took us on a colorful, dynamic and emotionally delicious journey.

On The Nature Of Things (2014) opened the spotlight portal to our minds. Slowly. Three performers, their bodies shaped like statues of Roman Gods and Goddesses, contracted into movement with one another. Each move was fantastically precise – pulling, holding, carrying. Each body formed an intimate counterweights of another while operatic music pulled tears like water reflecting moonlight off of their figures. Perfectly balanced on an elevated circular table with its own gravity – a table that must have really been a flattened planet – they drew us in as close as the breathless moment just before a first kiss.

Pilobolus provided a quiet, beautiful explosion to start this truly magical evening.

Love. Longing. Separation. Despair. Force. Desperation moves our human form and back to our people. Reaching. Grabbing. Lifting. Connecting. Releasing. Back to one’s self after holding on to others. Coming back to center. Dimming into darkness. A quiet, beautiful explosion to start this truly magical evening. 

To be in the room during the second work – and to witness a world premiere –The Ballad, was incredibly moving, and its relevance today is palpable, visceral. Learning, uncovering more about Native American suffering is always painful and powerful. It’s deeper to see how they understand the disconnect between Mother Earth and what we used to call “people.”

The story defines how plants and animals were here first, gifted by the Goddess, freely, as she came down to us. It tells how we stole both resources people, too, their connection ripped off as they were put through indoctrination – something the cannibals called schools.

Their people went missing. Their people came out sterile. Their people couldn’t use their language. Their people would sometimes turn into cannibals themselves. The monsters they built went through, some in the shadows of the brilliant lighting. They’ll tug at you to use everything. They want you to forget that you came from the Earth. But there is girl.. the one at the beginning of all this – who remembers. She remembers how to connect. She reteaches people to see faces again. She tells them how we don’t need to eat people anymore. The communication between people and planet can be brought back to light. We just have to look up together and give back. 

Pilobolus was flirtatiously humorous. Individualistic gestures, but truly a unison moving flock in unison with each other.

The birds that trotted in for Branches (2017) kept viewers guessing. Playful pecks and flaps running across the stage to gorgeously strong lifts, we were in a propless theater. Flirtatiously humorous. Individualistic gestures, but an altogether moving flock in total unison. They relied on each other. They were made larger with each other’s help. Growing bigger and more powerful, still holding natural elegance as the birds they are. Until the day is done. And they were gone again.

Post-intermission the troupe brought us back in with another spotlight – this time not from above, but behind. Backlit silhouettes mingled as they came into focus. Tiny dancer interacting with a sort of God hand, spinning, twisting and changing her. In and out, in front of the screen and shadows and sunlight she shapes and shifts and put up only a little fight. Everyone else scampers collectively, showing they are real until they get behind a panel with light and band together suddenly looking like what may be a mild horror. Sometimes the shadow creatures only want a soda before they come out and give a reminder of their illusion. Maybe it’s just a dream after all. Short. Silly. Scary. Still behind a light. Somewhere in a square in the back of your mind. 

The last work called Day Two (1981) projected everything back around that exact time. The second day. The earliest of us. Ground pounding, knuckle kneeling, wildly new humans. Tribal stomps and short, repetitious ticking body jerks. Animalistic chaos, but together, as one motion. Power building with their understanding of one another. They built strong community to bond within, and to expand into more. This was a pleasureful, powerhouse set to expressively conclude Pilobolus’ lifetime work choices. 

Pilobolus is known for their ability to produce and manifest without barriers. Bodies are stretched and tested to the full extent of capability but in the most gorgeous ways. Whether it’s through beauty or strength or control or fluidity, they find a way to make it into movement. The works of the night reiterate exactly just how well the company can construct them presently through our reality.