Review: Pilobolus showcased the most intimate forms of human connection at the Vilar Performing Arts Center
Special to the Daily
Wednesday night, Pilobolus transported Vilar Center audiences to a deeply sensual, embodied place in a way perhaps no other dance company could.
Founded by three male athletes who took one dance class at Dartmouth College in 1971, Pilobolus breaks traditional rules of the dance world. It doesn’t demand robotic precision or the highest-trained dancers. Rather, it uses physics, curiosity and imagination to discover what’s possible when eight physically intelligent and athletic people gather to move, morph and manipulate group formations.
Before the show officially began, Pilobolus dancers warmed up casually in front of the audience, allowing the audience to catch glimpses of their welcoming and lighthearted attitudes.
Then, they launched into their first piece, “Eye Opening,” which played out like a children’s afternoon special about the evolution of the eye. While the piece was very fun, entertaining and intriguing, especially with its use of live video footage zooming in on the action taking place on stage, it didn’t set up high expectations for the level of dance that was yet to come. But, as it turned out, both the casual warmup and the playful, childlike “Eye Opening” broke down any walls between audience and performers, which seemed essential for audiences to feel comfortable.
In the second piece, “Gnomen,” the show suddenly transformed from child’s play to a sophisticated exploration of four men’s ability to intimately engage with one another. Wearing only tiny, tight black shorts, three men compassionately moved the very tall Paul Liu, who, for the purpose of the dance, had limited leg strength and motion. The extremely close bodily contact and eye contact could have made some feel uncomfortable, but the beauty of this piece stems from the fact that we don’t commonly see men very closely slide, lean, lift and shift among one another, essentially creating one large, moving and morphing organism. Watching them somersault as one large body or rock, Liu, who hung from the men’s feet, back and forth, was mesmerizing. Just the principle of men lifting men and closely connecting through physical touch — rather than pairing men with women — was refreshing.
In the third piece, three women shined. They began by running in circles with yards of red fabric that stretched across nearly the entire stage. They continued to shift shape the fabric in innovative ways as they took forms under the fabric and created illusions like a larger-than-life woman: One woman’s head showed while remaining two hid their bodies under the fabric, revealing only one arm, which looked like it belonged to the head that peeked out.
The second act remained sensual, focused on flesh and our primal nature as human beings. Once again scantily clad or wearing nude leotards, the dancers basically left no inch untouched on one another’s bodies. Intimate movements had nothing to do with gratuitous sexual moves. Instead, it lingered in the world of close connection while continuing to accomplish moves, poses and lifts that seem impossible. Women balanced on the shoulders of men without either partner using their arms to hold the position; two women balanced upon each other, stomach to stomach, as one bent backwards (without arms touching the ground) and the other held her arms and legs out, as if flying.
The second half wrapped up with a mostly humorous — but sometimes serious — social commentary on how men and women act to impress one another and how crossing the line into outright sexual displays can result in shame and ostracization — or close connection.
As co-artistic director Renee Jaworski promised, the show ended joyfully, as dancers slipped, spun and slid across the stage on a huge slip-and-slide.
Throughout its performance, Pilobolus deeply embodied both the principles of physics through physical dance and humans’ yearning for physical contact. By revealing what’s possible with human bodies, the dance company wowed audiences, and also reminded them of their own physical, primal nature and the importance of touch and social interaction.