The choreographer’s stone

Momix explores an age-old enigma with ‘Alchemia.’

American dance troupe Momix (photo credit: PR)
American dance troupe Momix
(photo credit: PR)
Tucked away on a vibrantly green hill in Connecticut, American dance troupe Momix has quietly been uncovering the secrets of alchemy. Although their predecessors in the race to unlock the Pandora’s box that is golden transformation used test tubes and burners, the dancers of Momix use their bodies in movement to investigate alchemy. The age-old mystery, once a source of endless wonder to scientists around the globe, is the newest in a line of other-worldly intrigues for artistic director Moses Pendleton.
This month, Pendleton will reveal Alchemia in Israel with performances at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center, the Jerusalem Theater and the Haifa Auditorium.
“Alchemia is a drama of the elements, as in earth, air, fire, and water,” says Pendleton. “We begin with fire. Someone has seen Atlantis sinking beneath the waves in the opening scenes, then the remains of the Temple of Luxor. Alchemy itself comes from Egypt. The world that has dissolved must be reconstituted by a play of opposites, male and female, earth with its gravity, air with its lightness.”
Pendleton founded Momix in 1980 after spending nine years as a founding member of Pilobolus Dance Theater. Though the company collaborates with many artists, Pendleton has been the leading creative force behind all of Momix’s productions since day one. The company has toured extensively throughout the world, sometimes touching base only once or twice a year before setting sail again for distant stages. Momix’s spotlight has come by way of television, as well as theater, most recently with appearances in commercials for Target and Hanes. Pendleton’s choreographies are a rare mix of circus, physical theater and contemporary dance elements.
Always a fan of magic, Pendleton felt right at home with alchemy from the get-go. Of his attraction to the topic Pendleton says, “I kept seeing references to it in things I was reading. I knew that Antonin Artaud had written an essay on “alchemical theater.” Of course, I had heard of the philosopher’s stone and transmuting lead into gold. I realized that alchemy was essentially the art of transformation and that I had been practicing it all these years in dance.”
His first dabbling with alchemy centered on a burnt swatch of fabric, an element Pendleton assures will be present in the performance.
As in any Momix piece, such as Lunar Sea, which was presented in Israel in 2009, and Botanica, shown in 2012, Pendleton masterfully employs illusions, movement and music in Alchemia. Whereas Pendleton has previously masked his dancers as jellyfish, caterpillars and cacti, in Alchemia the dancers become members of a secret society, one that is capable of manipulating the universe.
Over the course of several months, Pendleton observed countless hours of guided improvisation.
“My creative process has always been the same,” says the seasoned choreographer. “It’s a process of experimentation and discovery, based on guided improvisation. I depend on the creativity of the dancers. My job is to bring it out, to keep the heat steady under them.
Alchemy itself is a process, so the theme was well matched to our way of working.”
Now in its 35th season, Momix continues to flirt with the line between art and entertainment, offering something that lies outside of conventional performance categories.
“Momix is the kind of thing you might see in a crystal ball, swirling forms coalescing and then flying off to the corners of the world. There is a saying – actually, it’s the title of a book by Guy Davenport – ‘Every force evolves a form.’ We are still evolving. Alchemy is the latest stage.
I can’t predict the next, but the force is still there,” he says. “I enjoy exploring new worlds, and alchemy proved to be a very fertile one, with a therapeutic dimension I hadn’t anticipated. Ultimately, the stone is a medicine.”
Momix will present ‘Alchemia’ on May 28, 29 and 30 at TAPAC (; June 1 at the Jerusalem Theater (; and June 2 at the Haifa Auditorium (