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Roger Durbin, Knight Arts  |  January 21, 2015

DanceCleveland to present legendary dance company Pilobolus

How many dance companies do you know that take their name from a fungus and at that, a particular volatile breed that can propel itself and stick on the surface of whatever it aims at? Perhaps that kind of funny connection occurred to the Dartmouth College dancers who began the group Pilobolus back in the 1970s, making them known for their unusual, kinesthetic approach to dance-making.

Pilobolus has since gone on to become world famous, appearing in the greater Akron area in past years, but coming again for a one-performance concert on January 31 for DanceCleveland, a Knight Arts grantee.

As organizers have rightly pointed out, Pilobolus is deeply rooted in experimentation, dance improvisation and self-exploration, using the human body as a medium of expression to create form and movement with breathtaking effect. In other appearances, members have noted that they work collaboratively to explore through complicated physical movement and strain the central notion that they are trying to work out through highly lithe and limber movement.

Generally, the response to their work is a slack-jawed reaction along the lines of "How did they do that?" or, more likely, "How did they ever come up with the unique dance expression that they perform on stage?"

The company will perform four works reflecting the incredible variety of its repertory. One piece, "On the Nature of Things," is inspired by ancient sculptures. To get at that idea, the work is performed by dancers balanced on a two-foot wide column rising above the stage. It is set to music by Michelle DiBucci and Ed Bilous but inspired by the classical Baroque genre. One critic praised this work by saying, "There is a Sistine Chapel aesthetic here, in the fleshiness, the impressive musculatures and the dancers' magical floating quality."

Another piece, "All Is Not Lost," has been created by Grammy Award-winning OK Go, Pilobolus and Trish Sie. The performance piece is the live companion to Pilobolus' video collaboration with OK Go. For the stage, the dancers have a video showing them off to the side, dancing atop a clear flat surface, under which a camera is catching the various shapes and configurations that the dancers can create right in front of the audience's eyes. It can be amazing to watch the process that these dancers go through and see in automatic feedback the beauty they create. Playing with multiple perspectives, gravity and dimensionality, the piece, organizers say, changes how people look at dance through a kaleidoscopic view of human connection.

On a lighter side, the troupe's dramatic flair and quirky sense of humor comes into play in the "The Inconsistent Pedaler." With music by pop music legends Perez Prado and Tom Petty, the work was created by four of Pilobolus' artistic leaders in collaboration with fiction writer Etgar Keret and filmmaker Shire Geffen. A summary shows that there is indeed a stationary bicycle on stage around which a tiny family saga unfolds. As long as one person spins the bike's wheels, the family is in action; as soon as it slows down, they flag as well. There has to be something psychological here about how we spur each other along or can take the wind out of each other's sails.

A fourth piece is "Sweet Purgatory." This work is set to lush music by Dmitri Shostakovich and features dancers miraculously suspended in time and space, showcasing the dancers' combination of kinetic and physical capabilities. And for an added benefit to area audiences, Pilobolus will preview the current version of an as yet untitled work that will be premiered at a later date.

DanceCleveland will present Pilobolus for a one-night only performance at 8 p.m. on Saturday, January 31, in the State Theatre of Playhouse Square, 1519 Euclid Ave., Akron; 216-241-6000; www.dancecleveland.org. Tickets are $20.
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