Putting the 'fun' in 'fungus'

Pilobolus returns to Israel with yet another set of jaw-dropping dance pieces.

Pilobolus 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Pilobolus 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It takes a village to raise a child or, in the case of Pilobolus Dance Theater, to run a company. Since the early 1970s, the now-famous ensemble has been directed in a democratic, collaborative and somewhat hectic fashion. The company began with four energetic dance students from Dartmouth College more than 40 years ago. They took their name from a particularly aggressive fungus that was being studied in a parent’s biophysics lab. Fungus often comes to mind while watching the dancers of Pilobolus cling to each other to create inhuman shapes.
This week, the company returns to Israel for performances in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa.
Having such a large team of directors sounds like it could easily lead to a “too many cooks” scenario. However, for four decades, Pilobolus has thrived. Naturally, the list of artists on board has changed with the years. One of the original members of the company, Moses Pendleton, left the troupe in the 1980s to establish his own company, Momix. This past summer, Pilobolus founder, Jonathan Wolken, passed away, leaving behind a legacy of excellence. With the departure or demise of each member comes the opportunity for a new young voice to shape the future for Pilobolus.
One such rising Pilobolus star is Renee Jaworski, who shed some light on the inner workings of this artistic melting pot in a recent interview. \
“We are a collective,” she said. “That means that every person is in on everything.”
The directors move through different jobs constantly, filling in gaps and adding their two cents, she explained. Much like in a kibbutz structure, the managers of the company share responsibility of all daily tasks, be it rehearsing the dancers, organizing tours or running the office.
“It’s different every day. We gravitate towards what we like to do or what we are good at. We are never one person doing everything. We are always working together,” she said.
For this engagement in Israel, the Pilobolus gang put together a blend of new and old works. “We want to give people a varied program. We want the audience to laugh, to cry, to be moved. We want them to jump out of their seats. We’ll try to get all of the pieces that will do that in a program,” said Jaworski.
The artistic directors of Pilobolus do not stop their collaborations within the company’s walls. For example, The Transformation, which will be performed during this tour, was made with Steven Banks, the creator of Spongebob Squarepants.
For Contradance, Jaworski and colleague Matt Kent teamed up with Grammy award-winning musician Dan Zanes to tell the story of two misfits and their follies. This program also includes Jaworski’s favorite piece in the company’s vast repertoire, which is also a piece of Pilobolus’ history. Untitled was created in 1975 and is the oldest work to be presented this time around.
From the get go, Pilobolus was known for its athletic style. The troupe works with a lot of contact, lifts and group contortions. Their works are reminiscent of the best kind of circus acts, the kind that leaves you wondering how such movements are possible. In fact, Pilobolus shows are so jaw dropping, the company has been criticized for “entertaining” instead of making art.
Jaworski explained, “We’ve been accused of selling out. We’ve been accused of being just a bunch of jocks. We’re all artists. The idea that we want our audience to come back is not a bad one. It has to be a balance between challenging the audience without scaring them away. It’s a little bit of both. In order to make this company continue and keep the dance world engaged, we have to balance that. I don’t think that it is one or the other.”
Pilobolus will perform at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center from November 4-6 (03-692-7777); the Jerusalem Theater on November 8 and 9 (02-560-5755); and at the Haifa Auditorium on November 10 and 11 (04-835-3555)