Dallas — “The changing of bodies into light and light into bodies is very conformable to the course of nature, which seems delighted with transmutation.”
Sir Isaac Newton’s quote in the program introduces the content of Moses Pendleton’s recent creation for MOMIX, Alchemia, and could easily be said of Pendleton himself. As a co-founder of Pilobolus, he’s immersed himself in the business of finding ways for the human body to appear not very human. Taking cues from modern dance legend Alwin Nikolais, Pendleton creates visual experiences that leave the audience marveling at the creativity, excitement, and daring wonder of it all.
Pendleton’s evening length performance presented by TITAS at AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House over the weekend traveled the spectrum of transformation. Dancers don props and costumes in some parts to appear inhuman, yet in other areas they stealthily transition into more personally expressive beings. Regardless of the method of portrayal, all elements—choreography, music, lighting, and projection—place the viewer in an oddly beautiful, mesmerizing world.
Ambient, ominous trance music sets the atmosphere before the house lights dim, then a projection appears on the already-patterned grand drape. The image turns into flames, which morph into flames of water. The curtain rises to reveal tubes, which the red-clad dancers use to hide themselves and create shapes. Projections slowly change, and the images look like those found when a seemingly invisible object is placed under an electron microscope—striking, yet unrecognizable.
The prop effects fade into trios of dancers performing effortless lifts to the familiar sounds of Clint Mansell’s “Requiem for a Tower” performed by the pop string quartet Escala. The flowing red quality of their costumes then appears on a serpentine piece of fabric supported by several long rods, giving the illusion that the material floats on its own. Ladies match the effect by pulling at each other’s skirts to enhance the expansiveness of the fabric. The entire segment screams Loie Fuller, the internationally-renowned dancer who influenced artists in all fields at the turn of the 20th century.
Awe then turns to befuddlement as the dancers turn to very stereotypical gender roles. Men dazzle the audience with stunning barrel leaps and other feats of flight, while the ladies take a different approach. Round cushions placed underneath the ladies dresses exaggerate and draw attention to the curves of a woman’s body. The visual gets even more bizarre and a little creepy with the shift into the next segment and what appears to be very tall people with small heads.
The setting changes to the deep of space with stars shining in the background. The black light effect combines with the pattern on the costume—reminiscent of a rudimentary circulatory system—to make it look like the dancers are aliens slithering and running through the cosmos.
Just as the bodies on stage appear to transmute further and further away from their original human forms, the next duet brings the performance back to reality. Almost. Most of the music up to this point has been ambient techno, but the strings of Yo-Yo Ma’s cello performance of Ennio Morricone’s music bring a welcome change. A lovely duet illustrating human longing and innocent romance takes a slight twist with the addition of wire work and a pattern of tiny lights on the female’s white costume, exuding the image of a luminous being who resides among the stars.
The dazzling brightness of the white costume continues with a ladies-only segment. Floor-length hoop skirts shift them into dolls skimming the floor and later, clams. The men return in a double-horseshoe costume, and the boy-meets-girl moment looks more like a lumbering oaf meeting a lovely wisp.
The apparatus acrobatics return with three ladies suspended in harnesses and sweeping across the stage. At this point, the evening starts to drag a bit, but the introduction of mirrors creates a new dimension and increases the intrigue level. The mood turns sexual as a golden triangle-shaped sheet is placed in front of the dancers, to where all we can see are the various outlines of bodies pressing against it.
The bizarre sensuality continues when men hidden in a rectangular-shaped black cloth lift and caress beige-clad women, making the ladies appear as if they are levitating. A sudden curtain call gives an abrupt ending, but like most comic-book themed movies, you need to stay until the end of the credits. The large horseshoe props (as seen in the company’s promo material) provide for a plethora of daring stunts set to Karl Jenkins’ “Palladio” (the diamond commercial music) performed by Escala.
The production doesn’t have a tangible, clear-cut theme, so it kind of flies all over the place. The concept of transformation takes so many different forms, and Pendleton seems to touch the various points, even though they don’t seem connected. One thought remains constant throughout, though: What innovation and ingenuity must go into turning the dreams of Pendleton into reality on stage.