Victor Lucas & Elsa Johnson, Cool Cleveland | January 27, 2016
DANCE REVIEW: Momix @PlayhouseSquare by Elsa Johnson & Victor Lucas
We've seen just about every Cleveland performance of Momix, Pilobolus and (remember them?) ISO. These troupes of dance-illusionists have much in common with Cirque du Soleil, and dance critics are often dismissive. So, when we read reviews of Momix's latest production, Alchemia, we weren't surprised that two out of three were negative.
But, like every other Momix/Pilobolus/ISO performance we've attended, Clevelanders turned out and approved. The Connor Palace was packed with over 2,000 people on Saturday night, more than twice the audience of any other DanceCleveland presentation in recent memory.
"We love Momix! Yes we do!" enthused DanceCleveland's Pam Young in her curtain speech. "Whoo!" cried the audience right back.
And neither the general audience nor your two faithful dance critics were disappointed by what followed. Alchemia has a thematic through line something about Fire and Water, Lead and Gold - but you really don't need to pay attention to that.
Like every other show by Momix, Alchemia is 21st Century vaudeville, one spectacular vignette after another arranged in ascending order of magnitude, each vignette built around a prop or a special effect.
The first and weakest half of the program was most vulnerable to the usual criticism of Momix, that each prop or special effect is exploited, exhausted and discarded to no lasting effect. In the first vignette, the columns the dancers danced around became pipes they manipulated; they rolled them like logs, blew into them like alpenhorns, and used them to corral one of their number. Then the pipes are gone and two men variously run with and lift a woman across the stage. They are joined by a second trio and then A thunderclap and a flying red apparition appears. What is that? How do they do that? Then we recognize that it's a large piece of cloth, brilliantly lit and jerked about by thin sticks held by the dancers like Balinese puppeteers.
And so it goes throughout the first half of Alchemia. Dancing is incidental to props and effects. We're entertained but disappointed that this very capable group of dancers doesn't get more of a chance to do what they probably do very well, dance.
The second half of Alchemia presents the black-lit dancers running in place and undulating. They're apparently supported by frames rendered invisible in the black light. Just another prop, perhaps, but entertaining long after the mystification fades. Then we see one and later two women flown by wires. Flips, spins, and travels put other theatrical flying to shame. Yes, we see how it's done, but it's done very well indeed.
Then there's another black light number, a woman surrounded by mysteriously floating balls. The dancers manipulating the balls are almost entirely invisible. Then tinkling keyboards and three triptychs of mirrors; many women dance in front of the mirrors, pacing and flipping their hair oh, wait, it's only three women and a multitude of reflections.
Too soon the main curtain lowers and the final projection, "Fin." Applause. People start to hurry back to the 'burbs. But there's more. The curtain goes up on a pair of large metallic "U" shapes. Dancers variously rock and position the props while other dancers support themselves inside them. Wow! That tops everything.
With video design attributed to Woodrow F. Dick III and artistic direction from 67 year-old Moses Pendleton, Momix has done it again. Gimmicky, yes. Too little actual dancing, true. But oh so entertaining and we'll be back next time.
DanceCleveland has more in store. Malpaso: a Cuban Dance Project at the Ohio Theatre on 2/27. Dorrance Dance 4/7-4/9 at Cleveland Public Theater. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater 4/29-5/1 at the State Theatre. Get tickets and learn more here.
[Written by Elsa Johnson and Victor Lucas]