Dartmouth-grown dance troupes return to their roots

by Kate Carolan | 1/8/03 6:00am

Please stop reading this article. Walk over to the Hop, and sit yourself down in front of the box office. You can resume reading now, since you'll have to wait there until 1:30, when the remaining tickets for the second night of "Forest and Fungus: The Green Roots of Dartmouth Dance" go on sale.

Last night's performance by Pilobolus, Momix and BodyVox, three modern dance groups all of whom have their roots at Dartmouth, was breathtaking. Throughout the pieces, the Moore Theater audience would gasp as the acrobatic dancers performed routines and held positions they didn't think were humanly possible. Pilobolus opened the evening with a performance that made the audience laugh and hold their breath in apprehension.

Two men balanced two women on their shoulders, the men's bodies covered by the women's "Gone With the Wind"-style dresses. But that didn't stop the men from running all over the stage -- even though they couldn't see where they were going. Watching the performance was like staring at a Dali painting: mesmer-izingly beautiful, yet at the same time really convoluted.

Viewers were shocked when finally the two men emerged from underneath the dresses -- completely naked.

The next performance was by Momix. It was a dance characterized by quick movements and fundamental steps and movements stemming from ballet. Like the Pilobolus dance, it had funny parts. The three female dancers danced with large white balloons, and in the end released them into the sky -- in keeping with the theme of the piece, as the dance was called "Spawning."

The next piece, by BodyVox, featured a woman suspended in a harness accompanied by a male dancer on the ground below her. The way the top dancer floated made it seem as though she were suspended in time, painting a very angelic picture. The lifts and spins done in the dance were reminiscent of ballet or figure skating, but with a very surreal quality about it.

The next Momix piece was the audience's favorite. The dance was performed by a man and a woman, both wearing silver suits -- and skis. The dancers cast long shadows on the walls of the theater as they rocked it out to the electronic music. Their ability to use the skis as support while bending them nearly to the point of breaking was remarkable.

The piece didn't come as a surprise, since two of the dancers, Moses Pendleton '71 and Robby Barnett '72, were skiers during their time at Dartmouth.

The evening wrapped up with a final dance by Pilobolus in which there was a strong emphasis on the body and musculature. The finale was a slip-and-slide event as all the dancers from all the companies shot across stage on a wet rubber mat.

Pilobolus, the group that spawned this revolutionary modern dance movement, was founded in the early '70s by four Dartmouth students who signed up for the school's first dance classes.

Barnett said he was recruited out of a theater class at Dartmouth; he is now one of four artistic directors for Pilobolus.

Pendleton left Pilobolus in 1981 to form Momix, one of the two other groups performing in "Forest and Fungus." BodyVox was founded in 1997 by former Pilobolus and Momix dancer Jamey Hampton '76 and former Momix dancer Ashley Roland; Hampton is now its artistic director.

"I am the dance slut here," Hampton remarked. "I've worked with all these groups here tonight."

The dancers I spoke with agreed it was their physical lifestyle and their love of taking risks that drew them to Pilobolus.

"The creative process is the most dangerous part. This is where we test the limits," one said.

One limit that was tested throughout the evening involved the recurring nudity.

"We all have a good sense of our bodies," one Pilobolus dancer commented. "You have to be comfortable with your own body in order to be comfortable with another person's body."

After the performance, I asked dancer Matt Kant his favorite part of being in Pilobolus.

"It's not everywhere that you can rock out with your cock out," he said.