Dance Performance: Cool, calm and connected

The ever-innovative Pilobolus collaborates with the Inbal Pinto Dance Company on its latest tour here.

dance 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy )
dance 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy )
It was years ago, when I was living in my native Montreal, that I first heard of Pilobolus. A friend of mine from New Jersey told me about this Connecticut-based modern dance company that was coming to our cultural center, Place des Arts. I went to see the performance and was so thrilled by their artistry and originality that over the years, I never missed any of their shows that came to Montreal. When I moved to Israel, I was delighted to discover that they performed here too, and I have faithfully maintained my attendance record. Well, they are coming to Israel again - this month. And they have an exceptional addition to their artistic arsenal. The show, which consists of five pieces, includes "Rushes," a dance that was created this year in collaboration with the Inbal Pinto Dance Company. Founded in 1992 by choreographer Inbal Pinto and her life partner Avshalom Pollak, the Israeli dance company has received high acclaim both at home and abroad for the way its dancers/actors navigate among a variety of artistic disciplines. This is the first time in its more than three-decade history that Pilobolus has joined forces with another dance company. How did this formidable collaboration come about? Robby Barnett, one of Pilobolus's three artistic directors, explains. "We were trying to find cool things to do with human bodies," says Barnett in a phone interview from the Pilobolus head office in Washington Depot, Connecticut. "We looked at other dance companies' work; and when we saw the work of Inbal and Avshalom, we talked to them about it and invited them to come to Connecticut." They went for six weeks with two of their dancers. The result was "Rushes," a piece that reflects on how a person can be part of society yet find a way to make his own voice heard. In other words, how one can be an individual but still contribute to a group vision, Barnett elaborates. And, in essence, that has been the guiding principle of Pilobolus since its inception in 1970 in Hanover, New Hampshire, when several young men - one of them Barnett - went to take their first dance class. "The professor asked us to do something and, having no idea what a dance should be, we started to look for something that was cool," Barnett recounts. "Motivated more by fear than collegiality, we clung to each other for moral as well as physical support. In this way, commingled and mutually supporting, we began to build dance en masse." Essentially, Barnett says, "With no constraining preconceptions of what our field was supposed to be, we were simply free to invent our own forms." And they have been exercising that freedom ever since. The four other dances in Pilobolus's upcoming program are "Aquatica," "Pseudopodia," "Gnomen" and "Megawatt." First performed in an aquarium in Long Beach, California, in 2005, "Aquatica" is a "light piece that involves complicated partnering material," says Barnett. In this dance, a girl on a beach is swallowed up by the sea, immersing her in a sinuous subterranean world of myth and meditation. "Pseudopodia," created in 1974, follows a solo dancer drifting along like a tumbling tumbleweed. "Gnomen," first performed in 1997, features four male dancers who explore relationships through inventive movement and activity. As the name would imply, "Megawatt," created in 2004, is a high-energy, high-voltage experience. A performance that uses the entire troupe, it is a testament to the dancers' impressive artistic skills and physical endurance. Barnett describes the company's choreographic process as a group of dancers who are creatively intertwined. "The best way is to give them an idea and turn them loose," he says. In short, it is not just the choreographers who call the shots but rather a group of people who think productively. But, Barnett admits, he was very surprised to see the way Pinto and Avshalom worked. Rather than playing around until something gels into an idea the way Pilobolus does it, the Pinto group "begins with a detail, a nugget, and refines it in a polished, beautiful way that encapsulates an approach," he says. They are inductive, while Pilobolus is deductive. "It was amazing for all of us to see how far apart the methods are," Barnett marvels. And yet, he stresses, "We affect each other's work." Pilobolus's collaboration with Pinto and Avshalom serves to illustrate how one can work together in opposing styles and still create something visceral, original and organic. In fact, Barnett attributes Pilobolus's longevity to the fact that "The collaborative process through which we make dances is so defining that the resulting vocabulary becomes a metaphor for productive communal activity. The audience experiences a particular kind of collective pleasure at this physical manifestation of a social ideal." Pilobolus will appear at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center on January 22, 23 and 24 at 8:30 p.m., January 25 at 1 p.m. and January 26 at 9 p.m.; at The Jerusalem Theater on January 28 and 29 at 8:30 p.m.; at the Haifa Auditorium on January 30 and 31 at 8:30 p.m.; and at the Herzliya Performing Arts Center on February 1 at 9 p.m. Ticket prices range from NIS 149 to NIS 299.