On The Nature of Things



by Alix Cohen


An appearance by the venerable Pilobolus company (45 years strong) offers as much theater as dance. Forever pushing the envelope of strength, symmetry and beauty among melding bodies, the group offers vivid themes, visual humor and stories illuminating aspects of existence. Its multi-disciplined performers are a joy and curiosity to watch, from facial expressions to astonishing control and seemingly boneless collusion.


In the last few years, the company has meticulously explored the nature of shadows and added digital aspects to their programs. Tonight, in Program A of this run, several animated videos (Peter Sluszka) bridge scenic change. The best of these is the first: The Deep shows underwater footage where tools- bottle and can openers, nutcracker, compasses, pliers… come to life as sea creatures. Fresh Guacamole features the hands of a cook cutting grenades to reveal the interior of avocad0, a golf ball squeezed like a lemon, a tomato chopped into dice, chess pieces acting as salt and pepper…Captivating.


On the Nature of Things –to Vivaldiis simply breathtaking. (Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern, Antoine Banks-Sullivan, Jordan Kriston) Dancers wear only jock-straps allowing full view of sinuous, gloriously honed bodies. Banks-Sullivan carries Ahern over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Carefully placing him on a small, low, round platform- where the figures are “confined,” he withdraws. Ahern slowly uncoils. Banks-Sullivan then returns with Kriston and lays her down. Man and woman investigate/consider one another, touching, caressing, folding, bending, dangling off the platform, fluidly upside-down and sideways yet never leaving it. Adam and Eve?


Eventually the woman is lowered off. Man and woman reach for one another across the abyss. She lays flat. Banks-Sullivan takes her place in a pas de deux on the platform. The men literally lift each another at the crotch, turn the other’s head or arm with a foot; one holds his partner’s jaw to tip him diagonally overhanging the platform. This is not familiar choreography. Ahern bends, extends and is on the floor. Banks-Sullivan is alone. He looks up and around- to the gods? Then acknowledges us/bows. Immutable. The auditorium collectively exhales.


All is Not Lost


All is Not Lost creates a human kaleidoscope. At right, artists perform on and over a sheet of glass held by parallel side gridwork. Beneath, a video camera captures every move from usually unavailable angles. A screen at left shows what the camera sees creating illusions about dancers’ positioning. Busby Berkeley would’ve loved this. Everyone appears pleasantly puzzled. (The company)




Thresh/Hold -NYC Premiere (Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern, Benjamin Coalter, Jordan Kriston, Derion Loman, Tea Spencer) begins with a woman sitting on a door step. The door and (wheeled) frame occupy an otherwise empty stage. There are static sounds, a scratchy opera recording. The door opens, a man falls out. Wind rises. Explosion. A string of bright white lights come to life at the front of the stage. The door spins. Three men don’t want these two together. It’s a battleground. The couple is torn, each facing the others alone and then together, shut out, pushed in…they grab onto pants and limbs, turn in unexpected ways, lift and toss one another as if weightless, spin and connect…the door moves around the stage as if representing many; movement never stops; expressions morph from determined to drugged.


ACT II opens with (esc) 2013, a collaboration with Penn and Teller with voice-over by Penn. The piece, an exercise in magic and human contortion (resulting in various escapes), is amusingly framed and moderately entertaining, but feels like filler. (The Company)


Rushes takes place in and around an ersatz circus ring surrounded by small, white, wooden chairs. Almost constant water sounds rush and gurgle between jazz, pop and rock passages, buzzing, drums, a bonging clock…oddly, not as dissonant as it sounds. Parenthetic interaction occurs at the center of the circle as dancers in chairs (characters, really) shift seats in odd duck ways.


Two women entice and repel. A hunched man with a suitcase appears disoriented. At one point, one man carries another over his shoulder walking forward. Chairs are quickly moved from the back of a line to the front, again and again and again forming walkway. The most droll part of this piece occurs when each dancer moving 2 chairs creates collective formations, anthropomorphizing the inanimate furniture, simulating The March of The Wooden Soldiers or Rockettes. Perhaps it’s meant to show how we relate to one another as strangers. Often visually arresting, it’s somewhat obscure. (The Company)


A wonderful company. Always a treat.



Co-Artistic Directors- Renee Jaworski, Matt Kent

Charter Artistic Directors- Robby Barnett, Michael Tracy

Dance Captain-Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern

Creative Director-Mark Fucik

NYU Skirball Center   566 LaGuardia Place at Washington Square

Through December 4, 2016


Photos: Grant Halverson