'Momix' dancers defy gravity

by Richard Lazarus | 7/2/02 5:00am

Dancer-illusionist company Momix offered a visual delight to audiences this weekend in the Hopkins Center. Clever visual ideas and skillful physical performances carried the piece, called "Opus Cactus." Well, as much as any piece of visual cleverness can.

If nothing else, no one could say that they left the performance without seeing something they'd never seen before. The show opens with dancer and co-choreographer Brian Sanders on a cloth hammock strung between two disproportionately large cactuses with bungee chords.

Restful music plays. As Sanders "sleeps," he throws his weight against the elasticity of the chords, gradually swinging himself up, around and upside down between the cactuses, all while he maintains a perfectly tranquil expression.

This sequence, like many of the other more successful dances, used practical trickery to create a feeling of the actors' weightlessness.

Another sequence involved dancers flinging themselves at high speed on four-wheeled rollers just fractions of an inch above the stage.

In one of the final pieces, "Totem," the dancers had semi-suspended just above the stage, so they almost seemed to run in slow motion.

Momix seems to have a talent for establishing an other-worldliness in its performances. Strange creatures abound in "Opus Cactus."

Momix founder Moses Pendleton '71 said his work was inspired by the Arizona desert. It's difficult to draw a direct lineage between the lizards, birds and mystical creatures of that place and those that inhabit Momix's "Opus Cactus" world, but it's clear one exists.

The animals that inhabit it are also one the most remarkable things about "Opus Cactus." It's difficult to imagine bodies could end up shaped in such a way.

Just one of the creatures is a human Gila monster made up of four of the performers. The monster wanders around the stage, rolls around a bit, hisses and makes faces.

In "Ostrich of the Imagination," another monster is made up of two performers, one leaning far back and another balanced on top of him. The effect is of a bird with enormously long legs.

The real strength of these creatures is how seamlessly the performers maintain their illusions. The performers in "Opus Cactus" are extraordinary, executing their dances with precision and grace.

They make the dance look effortless. At the opening scene of the second act, "Dream Catcher," two performers balance and roll on an enormous metal thing that looks like an oversized four-year-old had put together a see-saw and a jungle gym and then given it all about a 30 degree twist.

The way these two dancers push, roll, hop on and hop off of the beast, you would think they were incredibly well-muscled leaves falling from a tree.

Another act of strength is "Pole Dance," in which the dancers seem to hang in defiance of gravity at nearly parallel angles from the ground.

In fact, the only point where one could really get bored with the performance was when the visual cleverness and surreal movement just became too much. It's like watching the same Sci-Fi movie over and over -- once one gets used to the world, there's no reason to be surprised by anything.

Similarly, the music the company moves to may come from a variety of sources, but it all has the same quality, and it becomes very monotonous.

However, chances are that if you like looking at things, then you would have liked "Opus Cactus." This is a show which Moses Pendleton can be proud of.