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Pilobolus Brings its A and B Game to Joyce Theater Shows

by Bonnie Rosenstock
July 4, 2019
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at the corner of 19th Street)
New York, NY 10011
212-242-0800
After a five-year hiatus, Pilobolus returned to The Joyce for a long-awaited run (June 11-29). I saw Program A on June 11 but was unavailable for Program B. Both programs consisted of mostly vintage retrospective, from “Walklyndon” going back to its inception to the newest, “Branches” from 2017. However, although I was awestruck by the physical strength, derring-do, agility and acrobatic skills of the eight performers that make up the dance theater company, by the fifth and final dance of the A program, I was both sated and disappointed. Between most of the numbers were brief, clever self-serving animations (with the name “Pilobolus” flashing at the end) that was best left to a Grateful Dead concert, a video game, or better still, not at all.

Pilobolus is a collaborative effort, so the list of creators and choreographers for the works was lengthy. “On the Nature of Things” (2014) was some kind of conflict for two men and one woman in a slow well-executed ménages à trois balancing on a small platform that barely contained them. They took turns carrying and holding each other in most unusual positions, like when Krystal Butler was balancing on the chest of one of the men. After Butler was banished to lying on the stage floor, the men began their dance of dominance-submission. The silver-haired Quincy Ellis, the shorter of the two, lifted up and pulled Nathaniel Buchsbaum around by the neck, but Buchsbaum, not to be outdone, then stepped on Ellis’s neck. By the end, Ellis was standing alone atop the platform, looking like the King of the Mountain. What the prize was escaped me.

“Walklyndon” was created in 1971, the same year that seven Dartmouth College students formed Pilobolus, named for a fungus that commonly grows on herbivore dung. It is a fast-paced audience-pleasing work of meetings and partings for seven dancers, which consisted of heel walks, running into and jumping onto each other, being carried upside down and a bit of violence, like biting the underwear of the person in front of you in line, and slaps.

“Rushes” (2007) for four men and two women felt like it should have ended three times, as each part was so different and climactic in itself. The first section featured chairs in a circle, the sound of running water, bells, chimes, clangs, buzzing, birds. There was a suitcase, jazz, bass and drums, a dream sequence, which had me ready to sleep. The middle part perked me up as the dancers moved the chairs about in masterly rapid-fire patterns. The rest of the piece was a blur, and at the end a woman put out the light.

In “Gnomen” (1977) the physical prowess of the company’s four men was evident as they carried and manipulated each other like puppets and made interesting shapes. The towering Jacob Michael Warren and the short, spunky Ellis were outstanding. The newest piece, “Branches” for six dancers made its Joyce debut after having premiered at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival Inside/Out Series in 2017. It was created by current artistic directors and former Pilobolus dancers Renée Jaworski and Matt Kent, along with many others. There were lots of water and bird sounds, spinning, tumbling and walking on hands and legs in an inverted V-shape. A pleasant enough piece which felt like it had all been done before.

Since 2016, Pilobolus has been helmed by Jaworski and Kent. While it’s fine to revisit the classics, hopefully, they will make their own mark on the company and bring it forth into the future.
Pictured (L to R) - Zachary Eisenstat, Quincy Ellis, Michael Jacob Warren, and Nathaniel Buchsbaum in 'Gnomen'.

Pictured (L to R) - Zachary Eisenstat, Quincy Ellis, Michael Jacob Warren, and Nathaniel Buchsbaum in "Gnomen".

Photo © & courtesy of Brigid Pierce


Pictured (L to R) - Nathaniel Buchsbaum and Quincy Ellis in 'On the Nature of Things'.

Pictured (L to R) - Nathaniel Buchsbaum and Quincy Ellis in "On the Nature of Things".

Photo © & courtesy of Brigid Pierce


Pictured (L to R) Casey Howes, Krystal Butler, Quincy Ellis, Nathaniel Buchsbaum, Jacob Michael Warren, and Zachary Eisenstat in 'Rushes'.

Pictured (L to R) Casey Howes, Krystal Butler, Quincy Ellis, Nathaniel Buchsbaum, Jacob Michael Warren, and Zachary Eisenstat in "Rushes".

Photo © & courtesy of Brigid Pierce

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