Dallas — The new TITAS season kicks off with an audience favorite, MOMIX, as they take audiences on a tour of the American Southwest with Opus Cactus. Artistic director Moses Pendleton initially created it as a shorter work for Ballet Arizona in 2001, but it has since evolved into an evening length piece capturing the essence of the animals, plant life, and images of the desert.
The company is known for its stunning visual effects, employing lighting design, sets, and costumes to turn the human body into something otherworldly. The extent to which Pendleton uses these elements varies from show to show. Alchemia, the last full-length show to hit Dallas, leans more heavily on those than this show, which makes Opus seem a little more minimalist. Overall, Thursday night’s performance doesn’t have the same visual punch as Alchemia, but the effect is no less brilliant. Opus instead opts for more subtlety, with a greater reliance on the human body. One’s comparison of the two likely depends on preference towards one or the other.
Except for the opening segment, which uses glow-in-the-dark expandable spheres to simulate tumbleweeds for “Desert Storm.” Didgeridoo music from Adam Plack and Johnny “White Ant” Soames sets a tribal tone, as the spheres float and drift through darkness.
Pendleton favors silhouettes, which makes the dancers’ jobs that much more difficult, as they ungulate their torsos and articulate fierce hand gestures with sharp clarity. Much of this show, in fact, dazzles simply because of the physical effort and precision involved.
“Pole Dance” proves an audience favorite, as three gentlemen use long poles to place the body in physically challenging positions. Sticks also allow the dancers (or perhaps they’re gymnasts at this point) to create other shapes later on, as ladies defy gravity for “Totem.”
The dancers spend a good portion of the show as animals, with all manner of birds, insects, and reptiles represented. Lizard-like movements are achieved with skateboard-style props that allow for humorous skittering and lateral maneuvers. MOMIX typically hits the bizarre in addition to the fantastic and wonderful, this time with a large red reptilian creature formed by several bodies slinking about.
The highlight of the performance lies with “Tuu,” a sumptuous duet opening Act II with dancers in dark gold. Articulated partnering and deliciously slow transitions create a mesmerizing picture, with the dancers expanding and softening with enviable control. It’s a great standalone piece, one we’ve seen before at a previous Command performance.
There’s usually at least one ultra-high-energy part, the fireworks of the show, and Opus achieves it with actual fire. “Fire Walker” (choreographed by Brian Sanders) has a dancer running, flipping, and twirling with his toes ablaze. The fire creates the only lighting, so we only see glimpses of his body amidst the speed of his movement.
As a whole, a sense of mystery pervades. The guttural tones of the didgeridoo pop up throughout the performance, as well as low flutes and percussion, which give a primal yet ethereal vibe to the effortless movement. The audience travels on an earthy ride through a mystical landscape of physical and visual wonderment.