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REVIEW: Pilobolus dancers bring high-style high jinks to Hancher presentations

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Kelli Sutterman / Admin  ::   UPDATED: 21 January 2014 | 3:43 pm   ::  

IOWA CITY - Pilobolus returned to Iowa City in a new space and place -- the Space Place Theater in North Hall on the University of Iowa campus.

This "talent gang" of dancers and choreographers looks mighty good in this intimate space. Two sold out performances on Nov. 13 and 14 were joyously received by a hungry audience.

Pilobolus, defined as a "phototropic fungus that thrives in farmyards," has been a frequent visitor to Hancher Auditorium over the years. Since its founding at Dartmouth College in 1971 by four choreographers, this ensemble has successfully toured the planet, and has been well received on the college and university touring circuit.

Indeed, the wildly imaginative spark that drives this ensemble has a "high jinks," collegiate feel to it: often wry, always sexy, always challenging the human form into new shapes, new possibilities. A favorite moment in this performance was a kind of a "thing," dancing across the stage on one hand and one foot. The audience responded with both laughter and admiration.

You have to be a gymnast, as well as a dancer, to work for this company. You have to be very strong, very supple and very good looking. Pilobolus has been consistent in its ability to attract, develop and sustain the talent that it requies.

Two works stand out in this visit. The oldest work on the bill, "Pseudopodia" is from 1973, and is classic Pilobolus. It features a female solo in a fluid series of somersaults that resembles the movement of cells in a microscope. Talk about limber! This work is at the heart of the vision of the founders. It is astonishing to observe what the human frame is capable of, fulfilling that capability with remarkable beauty.

A vivid theatricality beats at the heart of this work, an esthetic that stems from the work of Alwin Nikolais, witnessed further in the work of Momix, Mummenschantz and Cirque du Soleil.

"Gnomen," created in 1997 by Robby Barnett and Jonathan Wolken, features four young men. They work together with grace and strength in a well-conceived pattern of relationships, with breathtaking strength and inventiveness. Their level of accomplishment is remarkably high, and feats of strength and endurance are performed with an apparent lack of effort: a characteristic of superb art.

Even though Pilobolus is now more than more than 40 years old, nothing is stale or predictable about the troupe's work. Yes, some dances are better than others, but there is much to admire in their ongoing quest for expression. As Walt Whitman wrote, "I sing the body electric." One can only hope that Pilobolus will keep on singing.

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