This summer marks the 84th season of the American Dance Festival. World-renowned American modern company Pilobolus has been visiting Durham since the festival moved here 40 years ago.
Founded by non-dancers at Dartmouth College in 1971, Pilobolus adds about two pieces per year to their 120+ piece touring repertoire. They have performed on the Academy Awards®, the MTV Video Music Awards, TED, and Sesame Street, to name but a few. You likely know them as the ensemble that creates complex shadow formations behind a large screen — something notably absent this year. Their performances this weekend at the Durham Performing Arts Center marked the midpoint of the two-month American Dance Festival.
The mission of any dance company is, obviously, to create and perform dance. But Pilobolus seeks to replicate the behavior of its namesake fungus: to expand, diversify, and adapt to an ever-changing landscape. Just as important as its commercial service offerings and live performances is its educational branch, which teaches its creative process to dancers, educators, and others.
Pilobolus performed five pieces this year, including “On the Nature of Things,” which premiered in 2014. It is a pas de trois featuring Antoine Banks-Sullivan, Nathaniel Buchsbaum, and Krystal Butler. Their cohesion was stunning, using tremendous counterbalance to maintain posture on a very small circular platform. The trio’s impressive physical strength blended athleticism and delicacy into a dance that is both sexual and spiritual — certainly the program’s most impressive piece.
The program offered an ADF-commissioned work, “Echo in the Valley,” created in collaboration with Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn, who performed their bluegrass-infused score live. Telling the tragic story of a coal miner’s wife (a compelling Heather Jeane Favretto), the troupe connected well with the Fleck/Washburn score, providing percussive elements through footwork. The piece, daringly lit by Thom Weaver, was easily Pilobolus’ most narrative piece this year.
“[esc],” a collaboration with magician-comedians Penn & Teller, returned this summer after its 2013 ADF premiere. The piece is based on the escape techniques of Harry Houdini; and during it, the company performed several choreographed feats, including some impressive contortion from Nathaniel Buchsbaum. A few stumbles in timing were noticeable on Friday night, but the act was overall an engaging, funny, and crowd-pleasing one.
“[esc]” was a palate-cleanser for the non-dance folk in the audience, but it interrupted the flow of an otherwise dance-centric show. Isabella Diaz performed an escape of great daring indeed, but the image of a white dancer placing a bag over the head of a dancer of color, bound to a chair, was a distressing one.
Jacob Michael Warren’s simian isolations kicked off “Branches” with enthralling character and humor. This extensive journey through the animal kingdom reinforced Pilobolus’ reputation for eschewing the dance textbook. With a dual score of Dixieland jazz and European minimalism, “Rushes” evoked the staging of Chuck Jones’ animation and the stock characters of commedia dell’arte.
Short animated films covered stage transitions. The works of animator PES (the Oscar®-nominated “Fresh Guacamole” and “The Deep“) earned big laughs, while a live-action video from Pilobolus’ “Umbrella Project” was one of the evening’s most awe-inspiring presentations.
I encourage everyone, whether a “dance person” or not, to catch Pilobolus when they come through next time around. Their diverse program has something for everyone.
SECOND OPINION: July 1st Durham, NC Five Points Star review by Kate Dobbs Ariail: https://thefivepointsstar.com/2017/07/01/adf-pilobolus-with-banjos/; July 1st Durham, NC Herald-Sun review by Susan Broili: http://www.heraldsun.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article159258874.html; July 1st Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Susan Broili: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article159258834.html; and June 29th Raleigh, NC ArtsNow staff preview: http://www.artsnownc.com/pilobolus-dpac-adf/.
PILOBOLUS (American Dance Festival, June 30 and July 1 at the Durham Performing Arts Center in Durham, NC).
SHOW: http://americandancefestival.org/performance/2017-2/pilobolus/ and https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/pilobolus-5.
ADF 2017: http://americandancefestival.org/performance/2017-2/.
PRESENTER: http://www.americandancefestival.org/, https://www.facebook.com/AmerDanceFest, https://twitter.com/AmerDanceFest and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Dance_Festival.
VENUE: http://www.dpacnc.com/, https://www.facebook.com/DPACNC, https://twitter.com/DPAC, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durham_Performing_Arts_Center.
Pilobolus (Washington, CT modern dance company): https://www.pilobolus.org/ (official website), https://www.facebook.com/PilobolusDance (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/Pilobolus (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilobolus_(dance_company) (Wikipedia), and https://www.youtube.com/user/pilobolusdance (YouTube).
[RUN HAS CONCLUDED.]
Dustin K. Britt, a Triangle native, is an actor, director, and member of the board of directors of Arts Access, Inc., which makes the arts accessible to people with disabilities. He holds an M.A.Ed. in Special Education from East Carolina University and teaches locally. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment. You can find him on Facebook as Dustin K. Britt and via his movie blog Hold the Popcorn.