Pilobolus stretches our perceptions
Pilobolus, in its 40th season, has recaptured the wonderment of its renegade years.
That doesn’t mean that every piece in last night’s concert — presented by the Celebrity Series of Boston — was an overwhelming success. But it does mean that in the best of the bunch, the troupe was able, once again, to stretch not just the laws of motion but our perceptions of the natural world.
The best included “The Transformation’’ (2009), “Rushes’’ (2007), and the tried-and-true “Walklyndon,’’ choreographed way back in the company’s first year, 1971.
“The Transformation’’ is a play of light and shadow for two set to music by David Poe. Erika Jimbo, all subtlety and nuance, shape-shifts from woman to dog with twitching ears and thumbing leg as Nile Russell, lit from behind a scrim, molds her with his giant hand, then rubs her belly or scratches her under the chin.
The illusions continue with the evocative “Rushes,’’ a dance for seven people, a slew of chairs, and a giant brown suitcase. “Rushes’’ journeys from hilarity to pathos with the flick of a wrist or a mincing flat-footed walk that conjures the comics of old. Set to music ranging from Miles Davis to Arvo Pärt, it’s a tale of love and loss, and love again, where even the most broken among us have flights of fancy and the warm support of friends.
The slapstick “Walklyndon’’ (is that a play on “walk lying down”?) probably will always seem new. It’s a series of pratfalls and body slams, handshakes that never meet, and flat-footed runs over colleagues on the ground. With impeccable timing, the five dancers, sporting colorful gym shorts, keep the bungled encounters remarkably unexpected.
Not as effective were “Seraph’’ (2010), “Redline’’ (2009), and “Gnomen’’ (1997).
“Seraph,’’ a preview performance, is a collaboration between Pilobolus and members of the MIT Distributed Robotics Laboratory. (Full disclosure: I teach writing part-time at MIT.) Performed by Molly Gawler and glistening plane-like robots, it explores how machines are us — in their relationships to one another and the people who make them. But though the robots fly, the piece itself never really gets off the ground.
“Redline’’ features six characters who now grasp the backs of their thighs, now clomp around, smack on the beat of the music. The troupe’s famous organic physicality and acrobatic daring abound, but the tricks outpace the meaning.
“Gnomen,’’ a treatise on the ties that bind us, has Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern tying himself in knots and Jun Kuribayashi soaring — impressive feats all. But the very fluidity of the piece undoes it: Without impulses, movement flows but rarely sings.
Thea Singer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org