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Victor Lucas and Elsa Johnson  |  October 05, 2011

Dinosaur Runs Amok! MOMIX Dazzles at E.J.

Dinosaur Runs Amok!

Momix Dazzles at E J Thomas

We drove down to Akron's E. J. Thomas Hall last Saturday night to see modern dance company Momix perform their latest, Botanica, an exuberant exploration of the world of plants.

Momix Artistic Director, Moses Pendleton, has (ahem) deep roots in the world of agriculture. He grew up on a farm and had his "first performing experience showing Holstein-Friesians at county fairs." When he and his jock buddies, among them Robby Barnett and Jonathan Wolken, teamed up with Alison Chase to form Pilobolus in 1971 they named it after " a sun-loving fungus" that grows on cow manure. When Pendleton broke off to form a company of his own in 1981, he named it after a milk replacer for baby calves, Momix.

Pendleton and his company of - not dancers but - "dancer-illusionists" are past masters of the special effect. Cleveland dance audiences will remember Momix's most recent visit to Cleveland in 2007, Lunar Sea.

Like Lunar Sea, Botanica deploys an awesome array of illusions, images and novelties.

As the curtain goes up, the Botanica program note calls for a winter landscape so we see the stage covered with a white cloth, lit to look very like an exquisitely beautiful snowy field at twilight. Wind machines offstage animate the cloth so that it takes on the compelling appearance of wind blowing off snowdrifts. Dancers under the cloth push their faces against the elastic cloth, thus personifying the plants described so poetically by Maurice Maeterlinck in The Intelligence of Flowers, quoted in the Botanica program.

"The plant strains its whole being in one single plan: to escape above ground from the fatality belowto enter a moving, animated world."

The images that follow are seldom so poetic nor so clearly in service of the theme. What we get is a kind of new vaudeville, a succession of exquisitely realized short entertainments organized (very) loosely around the theme of plants in the 4 seasons.

Entertaining? Botanica definitely is. Deep meaning? Not so much.

A solo dancer does a pas de deux with her reflection on a mirrored ramp, vividly lit and visually fascinating. We look forward to seeing the inevitable rush of copycats; this seemingly simple stunt is probably not as easily realized as it looks.

A woman enters riding astride a full-sized triceratops skeleton. The dinosaur is an exquisitely realized puppet, cunningly animated by a single dancer inside to create the compelling illusion of a responsive, affectionate beast.

Dancer biographies and bits of Botanica choreography suggest that this group of Momix dancers is surprisingly interested in and good at ballet. During a black light show 3 dancers create the illusion of one dancer who performs ballet leaps in slow motion. In another scene 5 men depict bumblebees (wasps? yellow jackets?) with scintillating wings like bodyblades; their dance shows off their pirouettes and air tours. The legs that we see extending below Botanica's giant sunflowers and ultra poofie orange tutus are taut and well-schooled ballet dancer legs; Pavlova, who depicted a flower in at least one of her dances, would have approved.

Also surprising, the Pilobolus style partnering we expected to see was not much in evidence.

Part Two after the intermission has a lot of turning. In one solo, more dervish dance than ballet, the dancer spins continuously for about 5 minutes, sending the body tent she's draped in out to a fully horizontal plane at her neck. Again, the light on the moving costume makes for an exquisite effect.

After 110 minutes of Botanica, the score for exquisitely realized theatrical effects was OFF THE EVERLOVIN CHARTS.

Deep meaning and poetic resonance were less in evidence. For those values and Pilobolus-style partnering, our readers would do well to look to Cleveland's own Pilobolus exponent, Inlet Dance Theatre.

In DanceCleveland's next offering, Aszure Barton and Artists perform Busk at 8pm Sat 10/29/11 at the Ohio Theatre. Tickets $45 $20. Phone 216-241-6000 or click (here.)

A joint presentation of DanceCleveland, The University of Akron's Dance Program, and E.J. Thomas Hall, Momix was performed at EJ Thomas Hall on Saturday 10/1/11.


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