Thursday, September 29th, 2011 9:00 AM
Momix dancers bring flora, fauna to life
By Kerry Clawson
Beacon Journal staff writer
It would be an understatement to say that choreographer Moses Pendleton is a nature lover.
He both reveres nature and lives at one with it in Washington, Conn., where he has a rural property and a turn-of-the-century Victorian home surrounded by flower gardens, woods, fields and a lake.
Pendleton, founder and artistic director of the 31-year-old Momix dance company, spends his more › afternoons dreaming with his sunflowers, which are a great source of inspiration for both his dances and his photography. Home and work are combined in one tranquil setting, where an old barn has been converted into a studio for his dance company, with its offices on the lower level. In a recent phone interview, Pendleton spoke from his wrap-around porch, where he was taking in the beauty and color of his Russian mammoth sunflowers, which he has grown to 18 feet.
"Flowers definitely have a language and something to tell us, but they don't have a voice, and maybe in Momix's own small, humble way, we've given them a voice."
Flowers are featured heavily in Momix's evening-length dance Botanica, which the company will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday at E.J. Thomas Hall to kick off DanceCleveland's 2011-2012 season. (Call 330-972-7570 for tickets.) The company will be transformed into flora, fauna and even prehistoric creatures as audiences are transported by Pendleton's fertile imagination through the rhythm of the seasons and the evolution of the world.
The dance uses special lighting, costumes, puppets and projections to make connections between human and nonhuman world. In this way, Pendleton says, he and his dance troupe can bring his garden to people in cities throughout the world for Momix's own versions of the four seasons.
"It's been very influenced by what you might find if you were taking a kind of magical walk in a botanical garden and were surprised by what nature has to offer, if you open your eyes and your ears and allow it to happen," Pendleton said of Botanica, which premiered in Torrington, Conn., in 2009 and has been met with awe and enthusiasm from audiences since.
Pendleton's work on Botanica allowed him to combine his two great passions: the natural world and the world of theater. His 2-acre marigold garden, planted in the shape of a giant sun with 16 rays, was the inspiration for the section of the dance titled "Four Tutus." Here, female dancers don four deep orange tutus stacked on top of each other to create the puffy look of the marigold.
Pendleton starts with the visual image, builds the costume so the dancers can metamorphose into that image of nature, and then adds the music and the choreography.
In Botanica, vegetable, animal and mineral are all created by the human form, including worms that turn the soil in March, "preparing the soil for birth."
As night crawlers, dancers wear black, flexible corrugated sewer pipe on their arms, and must learn to crawl. Identifying with these natural objects, even the rocks, is key for the dancers, so Pendleton gets them weeding in his garden.
"Sometimes it's difficult for dancers to play in the roles of rocks and worms," Pendleton said. "I try telling the dancers they should find their soul in the soil."
It's all about paying attention to your natural environment, the choreographer said: "Why have a backyard if you don't go out in it? Why have a dance company in the country if you don't use the country to energize the dance?"
Botanica starts in the dead of winter with a white landscape. Fans make fabric turn above as dancers move beneath in the glacial scene. Evocative imagery moves through the torrents of spring waters, Bacchanal midsummer and the falling leaves of autumn, all created by dancers/illusionists.
The Momix troupe that will perform in Akron this weekend will include five men and five women. A second troupe will soon perform in Spain and Italy for six weeks. The popular company has worked on stages throughout the world and in film and TV, including a national commercial for Hanes underwear.
Pendleton, 62, one of the founding members of Pilobolus at Dartmouth College in 1971, broke off from that company to form Momix in 1980. The name comes from the choreographer's farm roots: It's a powdered milk supplement for veal calves. Pendleton says he makes his own daily shake with blueberries, yogurt and Momix, and we're not sure if he's kidding.
These days, he prefers to stay home in Connecticut and talk to his flowers. He's preparing another photography show and also has made his own movie, shooting his flowers at high speed in the early morning with a high-definition camera. In this way, the vibrant blooms become personified.
"It's really a ballet with no dancers," Pendleton said. "The wind shows you how sunflowers can dance."
RELATED COMPANY: MOMIX
Wednesday, September 28th, 2011 12:00 PM
Momix Comes to E.J. Thomas Hall
Time for modern-dance fans to get their freak on: Momix - the internationally renowned troupe of dancer-illusionists operating under the direction of founder-choreographer Moses Pendleton - comes to Akron's E.J. Thomas Hall tonight for one 8 p.m. performance. On the bill: Botanica, a visually stunning mix of puppetry, strobe lights, and fantastic costumes set to an eclectic score that borrows from Vivaldi and bird more › songs alike. Known for its athleticism and physicality, the 30-year-old troupe grew out of Pendleton's early involvement with Pilobolus Dance Theater; Momix has since gone on to performances on stages worldwide, along with appearances on television, in movies, and an IMAX film. Tonight's performance is presented by Dance Cleveland, one of the nation's few organizations dedicated solely to presenting modern dance. Tickets range from $10 to $50, and can be had online or by phone. - Cicora
198 Hill St., Akron, 330-972-7570,
RELATED COMPANY: MOMIX
Thursday, September 22nd, 2011 12:00 PM
DOWNTOWN AKRON - The dance company MOMIX has been mesmerizing audiences since 1981, and DANCECleveland will present the dancer-illusionists Oct. 1 at 8 p.m. at The University of Akron's E.J. Thomas Hall.
When MOMIX Artistic Director Moses Pendleton was asked in a telephone interview recently what the audience can anticipate during the performance, he said, "Tell them to expect the unexpected." His productions tend to conjure just that response, for Pendleton more › mixes dancers seamlessly with puppets, supplies from hardware stores and elaborate and overdone costumes. He then turns the performance into a highly visual and mesmerizing experience.
Pendleton gives his dancers a great deal of credit and praise. He bought CVC pipes for the work "Botanica," which will be performed in Akron, and stuck the dancers' arms in them and then told them to learn how to move around and make them work. One headdress for the production weighs 20 pounds and is huge, he said. A dancer has to be both strong enough and agile enough to whirl with the contraption on and make it look right to the audience, he said.
Part of the fun of watching MOMIX is figuring out where the dancer leaves off and the costume or scenery begins, Pendleton said. Some pieces are done on a completely darkened stage with dancers in glowing costumes.
In "Botanica," the audience will see a dancer hidden in the belly of a dinosaur skeleton from where he makes the beast lumber along, but also interact with another dancer in a little pas de deux (duet). Some of the creations the audience will see on stage are women dressed as oversized marigolds and men as jittery hornets, as well as both dressed as night crawlers.
Pendleton said the work follows the pattern of the four seasons, beginning in the dead of winter and flowing through autumn leaves, thereby completing the cycle. In the choreographer's world view, however, nature has its living out, its unfolding, to do and therefore can be as alarming as it can be charming to see. Through Antonio Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" score mixed with some off-the-wall techno music, MOMIX will create lots of "atmosphere" and "tone" of nature having its full-flowing way in the world, he said.
"Botanica" is divided into 24 scenes, each of which has its own arc of meaning (since there really is no narrative value in the piece). Notes from a verse that Pendleton likes is in the playbill to set up the mood and brief outline for what the audience will see. It'll probably be helpful to follow along in order to "get it" during the performance, he said.
Pendleton said it took a year and a half to put "Botanica" together via a series of workshops in various places around the country. The choreographer said he would generally "build pictures" in his head of what he wanted to accomplish and present, and then set about figuring out the rest. Many things he tried ended up being discarded, he said. Pendleton said at the moment he is going through his "discard" file and looking for things to use in upcoming productions.
Ticket prices start at $10 and are available through TicketMaster at www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 800-745-3000 or at the Thomas Hall Box Office or by calling 330-972-7570.
Roger Durbin is professor emeritus of bibliography at The University of Akron and board director of the Dance Critics Association. To contact him, email email@example.com
RELATED COMPANY: MOMIX
Tuesday, September 20th, 2011 12:00 PM
Evening-length "Botanica" delivers magical theatrical experience
CLEVELAND (August 3 , 2011) MOMIX, the company that defies categorization as easily as its dancers defy gravity, will take the stage at E.J. Thomas Hall in Akron on Saturday, Oct. 1 at 8:00pm, for one performance of Botanica, praised as "an IMAX version of dance theater, with a savvy mix of puppetry, strobe lights and multi-media." (Star Ledger)
Tickets starting at $10 for more › this local premiere are available at www.ticketmaster.com, all Ticketmaster outlets or by calling 1-800-745-3000. Tickets can also be purchased at the E.J. Thomas Hall box office, 330-972-7570.
Presented by DANCECleveland, The University of Akron's Dance Program and E.J. Thomas Hall, this evening-length magical theater experience features a spectacular blend of physicality, athleticism and fantasy through movement, magical lighting and imagery.
Created by MOMIX co-founder Moses Pendleton, Botanica set to an eclectic score ranging from birdsongs to Vivaldi follows the rhythms of the seasons, the evolution of the world and the passing of a day. The work is brought to life by the energy of MOMIX dancers with costumes, projections and props & puppetry by Michael Curry.
In addition to their performance of Botanica on October 1, MOMIX dancers will be in residence at The University of Akron for five days leading up to their performance. Highlights of this residency include:
Tuesday, September 27
6:30-7:30 Lecture/demo and meet the company for UA students in Albrecht Studio 194
Wednesday, September 28
9:00-4:00 MOMIX dancers teach Modern Dance V, VI, VII and VIII classes to UA students
Thursday, September 29
9:00-4:00 MOMIX dancers teach Modern Dance III and IV and choreography classes to UA students
3:00-4:30 Master Class for students in Dance Institute in Albrecht Studio 194
Friday, September 30
1:00-2:30 Master Class for dance students from area high school students in Albrecht Studio 194
Saturday, October 1
11:00-12:30 Master Class for professional and pre-professional dancers at Cleveland State University Dance Studio, PE B71
Internationally acclaimed for its stage performances on five continents, MOMIX has worked on numerous special projects in film and television and has made five Italian RAI television features, which have been broadcast to 55 countries, including Russia and China. It has performed on Antenne II in France and has been featured on PBS' Dance in America. In 1999, the company was commissioned to create gala performances for the Fiat Corporation's 100th anniversary celebration in Torino, Italy.
Pendleton has choreographed for the Paris Opera Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet. In 1999, he was awarded the Positano Choreographic Award by the Italian government and received an American Choreography Award for his work on AEROS-The Illusion of Flight for the Bravo Television Network.
"When you go to see choreography by Moses Pendleton you expect to be astonished. Botanica . . . has astonishment to spare." The Philadelphia Enquirer
Sunday, September 18th, 2011 12:00 PM
E.J. Thomas Hall will be mixing things up this fall with a performance by MOMIX, a company of dancer-illusionists who will kick off DANCE
Cleveland's 55th season Oct. 1 in Akron.
The performance will mark the start of a sixth year of collaboration among the University of Akron, E.J. Thomas and the Cleveland dance presenter, which began in 2006 when the Parsons Dance Company performed here on the heels of UA opening more › its new high-tech dance center. That relationship was a springboard for bringing nationally known dance ensembles to Akron each year.
This year, UA's Neil Sapienza was interested in presenting nontraditional partnering. That would be a big understatement for MOMIX, which will perform Moses Pendleton's latest creation, the evening-length Botanica. The piece incorporates costumes, projections and props to create a mythical landscape that follows the rhythms of the seasons, evolution of the world and passing of a day.
Audiences will see everything from dancers who look like they're emerging from giant flowers to a performer transformed by a huge dinosaur skeleton puppet. The costumes, projections and props were created by Tony Award-winner Michael Curry, who created the puppets and masks for The Lion King. The vision, which has been described as an IMAX version of dance theater, is tied together by Pendleton's interest in photography and multimedia.
The piece, performed to an eclectic score ranging from bird songs to Vivaldi, promises to astonish and mesmerize as it explores the world's flora and fauna.
"On the cool spectrum, it's at the top of the top," said Pam Young, executive director of DANCECleveland.
Pendleton, MOMIX's founder 30 years ago, was a co-founder of Pilobolus at Dartmouth College. His company is an offshoot of Pilobolus. Pendleton, who grew up on a farm in Vermont, named MOMIX after a brand of cow feed. The troupe last performed Lunar Sea to black lights in Cleveland four years ago.
Tickets range from $10 to $50. They can be purchased at the E.J. Thomas Hall box office, 330-972-7570, or at http://www.ticketmaster.com or 800-745-3000.
Subscriptions for the 2011-2012 DANCECleveland season start at $91.50 for three performances. Packages may be purchased at 216-992-9000 or http://www.dancecleveland.org. The remainder of the shows will be at the Ohio Theatre and State Theatre at PlayhouseSquare.
Here's the rest of the season:
Aszure Barton and Artists, 8 p.m. Oct. 29, Ohio Theatre, Cleveland. Barton, a native of Canada and a Mikhail Baryshnikov protιgι, will have her troupe's Cleveland debut. The dancers will become street entertainers in her Busk, set to live gypsy music by Lev Ljova Zhurbin and recorded choral music. "She is clearly a choreographer to watch," Young said of Barton.
Inbal Pinto & Avshalom Pollak Dance Company, 8 p.m. Jan. 28 and 3 p.m. Jan. 29, Ohio Theatre. The Israeli troupe, founded by Pinto and Pollak in 1992, will present its masterwork Oyster, featuring 12 dancer/actors. They will create a circus world where performers alternately become puppets or puppeteers in a dance that combines ballet, contemporary dance, mime and acrobatics.
Ballet Memphis, 8 p.m. March 10 and 3 p.m. March 11, Ohio Theatre. The company of 19 dancers, celebrating its 25th anniversary, will perform a repertory program including Trey McIntyre's In Dreams, Jane Comfort's S'epaniour, Steve McMahon's Being Here and Julia Adams' Curtain of Green. The company, which emphasizes female choreographers, will make its Cleveland debut.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, 8 p.m. May 4 and 5, 3 p.m. May 6, State Theatre. Presented by PlayhouseSquare in partnership with DANCECleveland. Young expects these performances to drive subscription sales. Known as one of the world's greatest dance companies, the troupe incorporates popular music, gospel and jazz with a fusion of modern dance and ballet. The company, which was formed in 1958, is known for its explosive energy and athleticism. Robert Battle took the helm of the company in July, following the retirement of Judith Jamison.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.