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Steve Sucato, The Plain Dealer  |  January 25, 2016

Momix Charms but doesnt fully sparkle


CLEVELAND, Ohio -- It might surprise many who attended Momix's "Alchemia," Saturday night in Connor Palace Theater at Playhouse Square to learn that the 90-minutes of theatrical magic they witnessed got its start in the modest surroundings of a barn in northwestern Connecticut, where the company's dancers spent months playing with balls, exercise machines and other props to create the work.

The non-narrative "Alchemia" (2012) is the brainchild of Momix founding director Moses Pendleton and was inspired by the ancient form of chemistry and speculative philosophy, alchemy, which sought to transmute baser metals into gold. Unfortunately, however, like many past attempts to turn lead into gold, "Alchemia" never quite achieves that glittering end.

The production, part of DanceCleveland's 60th-anniversary season, lacked the wow factor of past Momix productions such as "Lunar Sea," "Opus Cactus" and "Botanica." The dance world's version of Cirque du Soleil, Momix is known for blending dance, acrobatics, theater and illusion into their popular shows.

Set to a collage of atmospheric music from electronic to classical, "Alchemia" was less visual fireworks than a slow burning reveal of colorful video images and some equally eye-catching images created by the dancers who constantly transformed themselves via costumes, props and lighting effects into lovely shapes and creatures.

The work's imagery related to the four elements: fire, water, earth and air. It appeared Pendleton looked to past productions for help in bringing these images to light, and with mixed results.

Where the production stumbled was in the use of several rather tired and recycled visual gimmicks, some of them decades old, such as angled mirrors to multiply a dancer's image into many and rolling walls aimed to disguise the dancers' movements across the stage.

For the uninitiated, these, and other chestnuts may have appeared new and dazzling, but for those who have seen the troupe before or productions like it, the effects were akin to seeing decades-old special effects applied to a new science fiction film.

Despite this, "Alchemia" still retained a level of charm that was warmly received by the audience. Standout moments included a segment presumably related to the element of earth in which a handful of dancers in luminescent bodysuits with root-like patterns moved aboard elliptical exercise machines on a pitch-black stage, giving the effect of watching athletic apparitions working out.

Another section evoking the element of fire had the dancers in shadow, manipulating a giant silk sheet with poles to look like a roiling flame that danced in the air about the stage.

The work's most captivating tableaux, however, came in sections relating to air and water. One had the company's female dancers costumed in double-layered, floor-length hoop skirts shuffling about the stage as floating over it. At one point, the dancers pulled one layer of the skirt above their heads making them look like deep ocean plankton pulsing back and forth.

The finest moment in "Alchemia" came in a quiet, graceful duet, in which a female dancer in a flying harness appeared to defy gravity as her male partner gently lifted and guided her into spellbinding visions of loveliness that culminated in the dizzying mid-air spin of a figure-skater.

Great dance choreography has never been a hallmark of Momix, but Pendleton and company have delighted audiences worldwide in their own unique way with clever, visually appealing and highly accessible productions built to entertain. Unfortunately, even in that regard, "Alchemia" still fell a bit short.

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