Pilobolus Bends Bodies, Minds

The Pilobolus dance company is currently performing at Skirball with a number of dance pieces that explore various musical and dance styles.

The Pilobolus dance company brands itself in its program notes as “rebellious,” having “[tested] the limits of human physicality” since its founding 45 years ago. Bold as it may be, the claim holds true — its latest program, performing currently at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, features two separate programs of five and four distinct dance pieces respectively.

Program A in particular brings wonder and amazement with each of its performances. The show starts out with “On the Nature of Things,” performed by the trio of Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern, Antoine Banks-Sullivan and Jordan Kriston. The stage contains a single round table-like structure in the center, and the vast majority of the piece takes place atop of the three-foot platform it provides. The music, a dramatic piece by Antonio Vivaldi, sets an appropriate tone for the near-Renaissance beauty of the three dancers who are nude but for skin-tone bottoms. Their skin gleams with the sweat of effort as they appear to be the pinnacle of strength and grace, moving together in a fight more beautiful than an oil painting.

Ending with a crescendo, the show moves on to what is perhaps one of the most appropriate collaborations of the century and certainly a huge draw to the show. The rock band OK Go, of “Here It Goes Again” fame, took its penchant for clever and unnecessarily technical music videos to the stage. The quartet took its genius and paired it up with six of the Pilobolus dancers. The stage featured one large video screen, completely taking up the left-hand side of the space and a large, square platform with a glass top and a camera placed directly beneath its center, which fed live to the screen next to it.

While OK Go’s song “All Is Not Lost” played, the dancers created mesmerizing and comical arrangements with their bodies. Alternately, more interesting moments were visible on the screen or on the platform, and it was occasionally hard to tell where the audience was meant to be looking at any given moment. The audience and dancers alike had a riot of a time, caught between awe and fits of giggles.

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The three remaining pieces of Program A were just as stunning — “Thresh | Hold” featured a mesmerizing plot that revolved around a door mounted on a rolling platform, which dancers leapt through and slammed shut in a mind-bogglingly perfect choreographed battle. “[Esc]” was a humorous take on Harry Houdini’s classic escape tricks, in which six of the dancers performed a classic Houdini act and then ramped it up with grace, style and leather cuffs. “Rushes” offered a healthy amount of what was clearly the company’s signature humor and complex coordination of six dancers and 12 rolling chairs. The set was arranged and re-arranged, dreams were had and then extinguished and as always, bodies were lifted, twisted and carried about in a reimagination of a 1920s train car.

Throughout the program the costumes were perfect, the music swelling and the dancers absolutely awe-inspiring. Each element of the show had clearly been tended to with the utmost attention. Even in-between pieces, short animated videos played on a screen that would lower itself to block any stagehand action. Surely, the company is changing the boundaries of humans’ capabilities — if only by stretching their imaginations.

Pilobolus will be performing its two showcases at the NYU Skirball Center for Performing Arts at 566 LaGuardia Pl. through Dec. 4.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Nov. 28 print edition. Email Hailey Nuthals at [email protected] 

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