Dallas — Sweet, goofy, charming. Shadowland showed us a different side of new Pilobolus Dance Theater, presented by TITAS on Friday at Dallas City Performance Hall. It was one that shedded its penchant for clever anthropomorphic images in favor of something more fluid, more human and more dreamlike.
In fact, Shadowland, a 75-minute-work with no intermission, was nothing but a dream, that of a young girl encountering a world full of danger, pleasure and surprise.
Murky light displays our heroine preparing for bed, where clothes lie scattered about. Alarmed, she sees her shadow looming overhead. Three bulky men invade her space, disrobing her as they toss her overhead again.
The motif of overhead lifts returns again and again, as she is tossed and swung as though she was lightly as a feather.
The world that she encounters undergoes wacky and sometimes disturbing transformations, the most dramatic of these occurring halfway though the show. From above, a large hand reaches down—shades of Michelangelo’s God touching the finger of Adam—and gently pats her head, and voilà, she’s transformed into to a creature with the head of a dog and the body of a girl.
From there she embarks upon many adventures, watching a cactus turn into a caldron and then fishermen tossing first boots into the caldron, and then an entire old-fashioned telephone. A cowboy grabs her, and they wander off into the sunset. She jumps into his pickup’s passenger seat, watches trees go by, and—like any good mutt—leans her head out the and lets her ears flap in the window.
She marvels as little crabs disappear in the distance, is chased off a cliff, and is beaten, poked, tied up and prodded.
Members of a kinky circus kidnap her in silver moonlight, the men tossing her back and forth as bearded women in tiny red outfits brandish whips and jump through hoops. She jumps on the back of a centaur.
This shadow world is created not by high-tech videography, but by props, screens, lights and the movements of human beings, making the illusions all the more surreal. Tiny figures grow to huge, looming hulks in a flash, or shrink into nothingness. Fish turn into pots, a giant head disgorges human beings, objects mushroom. To create the image of a dog’s head, for example, our heroine simply lifts an elbow.
Except for a few times when the music comes to an abrupt halt, Shadowland flows seamlessly, mercilessly, headlong into never-never land, pulling us along—and quite happily.
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.