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When it comes to pure visual stimulation, professional dance doesn't get more impressive than Pilobolus. Famed for its members' gravity-defying lifts and contortionist-worthy flexibility, the group is returning to Israel this week for the first time in almost 10 years.
Members of the critically acclaimed dance company will give eight performances during their 10-day stay in the country, with the first scheduled to take place November 10 at the Israeli Opera House in Tel Aviv. The group will perform an additional three times at the venue through November 12, and will then perform two shows at the Haifa Auditorium November 14 and 15. The group's Israeli tour will wrap up with shows on November 16 and 17 in Sherover Hall at the Jerusalem Theater.
Audience members at the eight shows will be amazed by the six-member troupe's audacious choreography, which can appear to defy the laws of physics as performers lift and balance each other in sometimes outlandish formations. Depending on the dance being performed, the artists may move like exotic animals, insects or underwater sea currents. Some dances deal with love and romance, and involve a more sensual style of choreography between two performers, while others feature a more slapstick style of movement and are played for laughs. Musical accompaniment ranges from Shostakovich to Radiohead.
Though this month's tour won't be the first time Pilobolus has performed here, this particular trip was aided by Itamar Kubovy, a Jerusalem-born theater producer and director who has served as Pilobolus' executive director since January 2004. Kubovy moved to the United States with his parents as a child, but has returned to Israel regularly in the intervening years, and said he explored the idea of bringing the dance company back here during his most recent trip roughly a year and a half ago. He was told at a meeting with two local producers that "there has been a lot of trouble" bringing some international dance groups as a result of the Israeli-Palestinian violence, and decided to bring Pilobolus here in part to counter that trend.
"It was extremely important for me to bring the work to Israel and have it stand as a real sign of interest, openness and excitement," he said.
The only Israeli involved in Pilobolus, Kubovy said "one or two" performers expressed doubts about traveling to Israel but his presence on the trip helped "make the company feel safer and more excited. They were always thrilled about the opportunity."
After spending time directing at and managing theaters in Germany and Sweden, Kubovy returned to the US to work in film and television before finding his way to Pilobolus last year. In addition to co-directing the 2002 season finale of American TV hit The West Wing, Kubovy has also made a short film, Upheaval, based on the Chekhov story. The 15-minute film starred Frances McDormand and aired on the Independent Film Channel.
Members of the Pilobolus troupe boast an equally international background, with performers born in Japan and Mexico as well as across the United States. Several are less than three years out of college and dance school, and their relative youth comes in handy for building the complicated human structures that initially won the group attention more than 30 years ago.
NOW COMPLETING its thirty-fifth year, Pilobolus was formed in the early Seventies by students and their dance instructor at New Hampshire's Dartmouth College. The Ivy League institution was all-male in those days, and the instructor decided it would be more effective to let her students help create the dances themselves than simply to teach them formal moves. The decision led to the development of the company's signature style, which emphasizes collaboration and gives every performer a vital role in each of the group's routines.
Less than two years after its creation, Pilobolus had secured a spot at the influential American Dance Festival, and the group gained its first female performer shortly thereafter. Pilobolus has remained co-ed ever since, with two women among the current crop of dancers. Three members of the original dance class continue to serve as Pilobolus' artistic directors, working alongside their original Dartmouth instructor, who guided the group at its start.
In addition to their unique style, Pilobolus dancers are known for another eye-catching element of their performances: the near nudity in which members perform many of their dances. The dancers don colorful skin-tight outfits for some of the group's 85 original routines, while for others they wear nothing but flesh-toned loincloths. Pilobolus performances are a celebration of the human body, with muscles and sinews visibly stretching, flexing and shifting as the dancers balance against and climb onto and around one another. Some moves seem almost literally back-breaking, and the performances are an inspiring showcase of the body's physical capabilities.
According to Kubovy, Pilobolus' Israeli performances will stress the group's "allegiance to innovation and collaboration," with performances highlighting the dancers' strength and athleticism. Among the dance routines to be performed is "Day Two," a piece inspired by the second day of the world's creation. Set to music by Brian Eno and Talking Heads, "Day Two" spans the time between the creation of the first life forms to "the moment at which creatures of the earth take flight." The biblically-inspired piece is "tribal and exotic," Kubovy said, and a likely highlight of Pilobolus' performances in Israel.
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