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Pilobolus Does What It Does Best: Make Us Laugh, Think, and Look at the Human Body Differently

The American Dance Festival will present Pilobolus at 8 p.m. on Friday, June 27th, and 1 and 8 p.m. on Saturday, June 28th, at the Durham Performing Arts Center (photo by Grant Halverson)

The American Dance Festival will present Pilobolus at 8 p.m. on Friday, June 27th, and 1 and 8 p.m. on Saturday, June 28th, at the Durham Performing Arts Center (photo by Grant Halverson)

American Dance Festival (ADF) audience favorite Pilobolus opened a three-performance run at the Durham Performing Arts Centeron June 26th. The opening-night performance, which featured the debut of two ADF-commissioned works, earned a standing ovation from the crowd, which was liberally populated with dancers from the ADF Six-Week School. (Having the dancers in the audience always adds to the energy of the ADF performances.)

Opening the program was the first of the two premieres, On the Nature of Things, created by Robby Barnett, Renée Jaworski, Matt Kent, and Itamar Kobovy, and the Pilobolus dancers; with music by Michelle DiBucci and Ed Bilous. The piece began with Mike Tyus entering from upstage right carrying Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern draped limply over his shoulder, head and arms dangling over his back, legs stiffly extending down the front of his body. Placing Ahern on a pedestal placed center stage, Tyus exited. Ahern awakened and somewhat dazedly surveyed his surroundings before returning to a prone position, his limbs extending beyond the edges of the pedestal.

Tyus returned carrying Eriko Jimbo, whom he placed, standing, atop Ahern’s chest. As he retreated to the shadows to observe, Ahern and Jimbo began a tentative exploration of each other’s bodies, lifting and supporting one another, caressing. Later, Tyus joined them on the pedestal (a feat in itself, as the pedestal was not large), and thus began a trio of desire and all that so often accompanies it — jealousy, competition, guilt, rejection. The tight quarters on the pedestal forced the physical closeness of the three dancers, who wrapped themselves around each other and suspended themselves from each other, manipulated and lifted each other’s bodies in space.

The audience saw the magnetic pull of desire, and the ensuing suffocating closeness that leads lovers to push each other away. The dancers were nude except flesh-toned G-strings, and Neil Jampolis’ lighting transformed them into classical sculptures come to life. I found the slight differences in the dancers’ skin tones — from redheaded Ahern’s almost white paleness to Tyus’s café au lait coloring, with Jimbo falling somewhere in between — beautiful.

Skyscrapers (2102) is a short, sassy piece created by Trish Sie, Paula Salhany, and Renée Jaworski in collaboration with the dancers. Half-closed stage curtains and a backdrop placed only a few feet upstage of the curtains created an alleyway of sorts, in which the dancers tango-danced from stage right to stage left and vice versa in brightly-colored costumes (by Phoebe Katzin and Ms. Sie) that changed with every crossing. The ladies were in dresses and heels and the men in suits, and the costume colors were often echoed by the video projections (by Ms. Salhany) on the backdrop. I kept envisioning racks of clothes in both wings, with dressers standing at the ready each time the dancers left the stage. Music by Damien Kulash (performed by OK Go) and lighting by Shelly Sabel were the final elements contributing to this fun, flirty piece.

Takuya Muramatsu of Dairakudakan collaborated with Renée Jaworski and Michael Tracy and the Pilobolus dancers to create Korokoro (2011). Opening with Eriko Jimbo and Jordan Kristen rolling onto the stage and taking creature-like positions, this piece harkened back to the early days of Pilobolus, when many of the company’s works featured otherworldly, not-quite-human beings and humor born of moving the body in un-self-consciously silly ways.

Quivering, jiggling motions gave way to sliding and rolling around the stage. Freeze-frame poses accompanied by surprised/clueless facial expressions elicited giggles from the audience. While there was much to like about this piece (I especially loved the section in which the dancers, in a close center-stage clump, served as a “screen” for brightly colored and patterned video projections), but it seemed overlong to me, and the different sections didn’t necessarily seem to go with one another. Neil Peter Jampolis’ lighting was again a highlight of the piece. Costumes by Liz Prince were simply thongs and simple bra tops for the female dancers. Music was by Von Oswald, Truby Trio, Flim, and Noto and Sakamoto.

In the second premiere of the evening, The Inconsistent Pedaler, the quirkiness for which Pilobolus is famous was in full display. Created in collaboration with playwright Shira Geffen and writer Etgar Keret, the piece is absurd and lovely, playful and endearing.

A bicycle on an indoor trainer stand is set stage right. On stage left stands a card table laden with a three-tiered cake and presents. Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern, in an old-man bald wig, sits upstage center; above him, a banner reads “Happy 99th birthday.” Jordan Kriston, dressed in athletic clothes, plays the title role, and rounding out the cast of this odd little play were a Mother (Eriko Jimbo), Father (Benjamin Coalter), and a Baby in diapers (Mike Tyus), ostensibly related to the Old Man and there to help him celebrate his birthday.

The premise of the piece is that it is only Kriston’s cycling that enlivens the other players. As long as she cycles, they are up and moving around; but when the wheels stop turning, they crumple like deflated balloons. Unfortunately, Kriston is, as the title suggests, inconsistent; and the players alternately lose energy and spin wildly out of control. Enter Matt Del Rosario, pedaling a kid’s bicycle. He mounts Kriston’s bike and begins pedaling serenely, and order ensues. What follows is light-hearted, playful magic, at which Pilobolus excels. Gregory Laffey designed the costumes and props, Neil Jampolis designed the lighting, and Carmen Borgia designed the sound.

Megawatt (2004), choreographed by Jonathan Wolken and the company, closed the program. The rubber matting the stage crew installed just prior to the performance of the piece foretold extreme dancing, and we were not disappointed. The dancers jumped, rolled, twisted, flipped, threw themselves to the floor, and generally blew the minds of the audience. Yet it wasn’t just gymnastics. In fact, my favorite moment of the piece was a section in which the six dancers did forward rolls right in to jumps, over and over and over — in perfect, beautiful unison. Music by Primus, Radiohead, and Squarepusher provided appropriate accompaniment to this hard-hitting but fun piece. Liz Prince designed the khaki, white, and red costumes. Neil Jampolis again did the lighting.

Short films were shown between each dance, affording the crew ample time to change floor surfaces and place sets between pieces. Pilobolus Is a Fungus (edited by Oriel Pe-er and Paula Salhany, with score by Keith Kenniff), preceded the first dance piece with a series of microscopic creatures and x-ray images. Explosions (by Dumt & Fraligt) was just that, a series of different kinds of explosions, filmed in slow motion. Whether it was a bat smashing an egg, a can of beans on a stove burner, a chainsaw slicing into a Coke, the series of images had the audience cringing and laughing. Wind (directed by Robert Lobel) was an animated film about extreme wind effects (drinking sideways, fruitless attempts to play ping-pong, etc.)

Danielle (directed by Anthony Cerniello) was by far the most captivating for me. The premise was simple: the filmmaker filmed a young (initially) girl looking straight on into the camera, hair pulled back, no makeup, no jewelry, no expression. At first, I thought that it was going to be one of those minimalist works that asks us to look, really look, at things we typically might overlook. However, it gradually dawned on me (such was the flawlessness of the editing), that Danielle was growing older. I’ve seen a similar film study done by a father of his daughter from birth to age 12, but it was when Danielle began to truly grow older that the film became fascinating. Her hair grayed, crow’s feet and mouth lines appeared, her skin sagged, her eyes became lighter. What was most striking to me, however, was the fact that the blank expression she held throughout the film gradually became infused with a barely perceptible sense of humor and lightness, as if it was impossible for her not to radiate the wisdom that age had granted her.

It was good to see Pilobolus still doing what they do best: presenting dance that makes us laugh and think and exclaim and look at the human body differently. Unfortunately, the nudity in this program makes it inappropriate for younger audience members. However, the company will present a special Children’s Matinee at 1 p.m. on Saturday, June 28th.

The American Dance Festival presents PILOBOLUS at 8 p.m. June 27 and 1 and 8 p.m. June 28 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.

TICKETS: $37.11-$69.72 (including fees), except all seats $24.50 (including fees) for the Children’s Matinee on Saturday.


DPAC Box Office: 919-680-ARTS (2787),, or

Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or

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NOTE: All seats are $24.50 (including fees) for the Children’s Matinee on Saturday.


Pilobolus (Washington, CT modern dance company): (official website), (Facebook page), (Twitter page), and (Wikipedia).


Viki Atkinson danced professionally in musical theater for a number of years and later shifted her focus to choreographing for theater. Locally, she danced in the North Carolina Theatre productions of Cabaret, My Fair Lady, Man of La Mancha, Oklahoma!, and West Side Story. Additional performance credits include Kathy in Company, Peggy in Godspell, and the title role in Gypsy. Later, Atkinson lent her dance expertise to Spectator Magazine, serving as chief dance critic from 1987 to 1999. She also holds a degree in Dance Education from UNC-Greensboro; and she has taught extensively in a variety of settings, including Meredith College, Virginia Commonwealth University, Appomattox Regional Governor’s School (Petersburg, VA), and the School of Richmond Ballet. She was also on the faculty of the Raleigh School of Ballet for 10 years and directed the dance program at Martin Middle School for four years. Viki Atkinson recently returned to Raleigh after living in Richmond for six years, and is thrilled to be back in North Carolina! To read more of Viki Atkinson’s Triangle Review reviews, click here. To read more of her CVNC reviews, click here.

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Categorised in: A&E Dance Reviews, Dance, Lead Story, Reviews