- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 22, 2005

What has happened to Pilobolus? The irrepressible company — named after a sun-loving fungus that grows in barnyard manure and spawned by a dance class at Dartmouth College — galvanized the dance world 33 years ago with its novel take on movement.

Everything it did challenged tradition. Instead of one director and one choreographer, anarchy reigned; sometimes fights about the choreography continued right up to curtain time. Its muscular, athletic movements, with bodies cantilevering off one another or knotted together in pretzels, defied conventional ideas of dance-making.

The company, in a vastly different mode, showed up for a single performance Tuesday evening at Wolf Trap. Although four directors (founding members of the company) were listed, only one was represented; all the works on the program were credited to Alison Chase (in collaboration with dancers past and present).

More puzzling still was the absence of the juicy, audacious, daring movement of seasons past.

Instead, Miss Chase focused on dancers hanging on ropes, climbing up strips of cloth and descending through loops of white gauze. The program seemed to have abandoned its distinctive sinewy style, the brilliance of its way of movement, and settled into a cautious version of Cirque du Soleil.

A couple of years ago, when Pilobolus was at the Kennedy Center, the program included Miss Chase’s “Ben’s Admonition,” a work for two men, each hanging from a rope with one arm. The work had a quiet appeal, as the men’s relationship was illuminated by the way they bumped together, banged together, separated and swooped in their own liberating patterns and swung closer again in harmony. (The pertinent quote was Ben Franklin’s admonition to a quarreling Continental Congress: “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately,” hence the title.)

In the context of the Wolf Trap program, however, its distinction was lost, and it came off as just another rope-hanger.

Wolf Trap is not the summer center for dance it used to be when its benefactress, Catherine Filene Shouse, was alive and showcased weeklong engagements of such companies as the Stuttgart, Joffrey, Kirov, Miami City and New York City ballets.

However, it has added a welcome support to dance by commissioning new works. Two were on the Pilobolus program Tuesday. “Monkey and the White Bone Demon” was commissioned four years ago, and “BUGonia” was a world premiere.

Pilobolus manages to fill large spaces and tour the world with a surprisingly small group. When it began, it consisted of four men; two women were added a few years later. That mix holds today, and “BUGonia” is a work for the two women in the company.

Again, there is a gauzy curtain to manipulate, with the women twisting it into loops and hanging precariously from it. By this time in the program, I admonished myself to stop hankering after the old Pilobolus and judge it on what it is doing now. What I saw was repetitive and dull, with almost all the pieces taking place on a darkened stage and only the bodies illuminated. Perhaps — if you’re into trapeze artists — you might find it more edifying.

Wolf Trap has more dance coming later this summer: The Bolshoi Ballet and Orchestra from Moscow will perform the vivid “Don Quixote” Aug. 5 and 6, and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago will display its hip, jazz-oriented style Aug. 23.



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