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Donald Rosenberg  |  October 04, 2011

Momix brings its garden of visual delights to Akron's E.J. Thomas Hall

There are many moments during "Botanica," the evening-length work performed by the dance company Momix, when the stage pictures trick and dazzle your eyes. Even though you know humans are manipulating the puppets, props and costumes at their command, the images evoke a sense of wonder.

The arresting visual aspects of "Botanica" were on bountiful display Saturday at Akron's E.J. Thomas Hall, where the company of dancer-illusionists performed its lush production under the auspices of the hall, DanceCleveland and the University of Akron's Dance Program.

Momix has specialized in inventive mixes of dance and images since 1981, when Moses Pendleton left the contemporary dance company Pilobolus to unleash his own, fertile imagination. In addition to transformative physical attributes made popular by Pilobolus, Momix embraces ingredients from the realms of art, theater and cinema.

In conceiving "Botanica," Pendelton and his resourceful team of collaborators took inspiration from a quote by Belgian poet and playwright Maurice Maeterlinck, who wrote of a plant's need "to approach another kingdom, to enter a moving, animated world."

An ode to the seasons, "Botanica" enters these worlds with alacrity, depicting various forces of nature in scenes that unfold in mysterious and often magical ways. An enormous dinosaur skeleton spits out a female and then swallows her. Birds sail across the stage, propelled by roller skates. Video projections mirror onstage activity, doubling the intriguing meeting of bodies and paraphernalia.

The marvelous dancers of Momix are called upon to negotiate all sorts of intricate assignments, many while hidden beneath billowing fabric, dressed as flowers that bloom before our eyes or, in one of the most dazzling sequences, connected to one another as centaurs on the frisky loose.

Part of the delight of watching "Botanica" is trying to decipher the methods used to achieve the effects. Only after the dancers break through those fluttering waves, for instance, do we realize how much they've contributed to the imagery. Numerous other extraordinary feats of design and motion pique our curiosity.

But "Botanica" doesn't always deliver once the processes are revealed. As the fragmented scenes most set to eerie and hypnotic New Age music continue the journey, choreography only occasionally occupies center stage. The production's ingenious amalgam of costumes, lighting and videos tends to dwarf the dance element, despite the polish and energy the 10 Momix members lavish on the piece.

Enough of "Botanica" is striking that it's possible to surrender to the luxurious garden of theatrical creativity without bemoaning the dearth of significant choreographic material. When the high-energy Momix dancers return to the stage at evening's end flapping long orange appendages, like virtuoso arachnids, we feel the excitement of entering Maeterlinck's animated world.

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