Bright work lights illuminated the Morrison Center stage March 2 as seven dancers bent into elastic stretches, performed pushups and then huddled, separating only to clasp forearms and jerkily nod to one another. One pulled a camera phone from his warm-up pants to snap a picture of the nearly full house.
It was five minutes until show time, and Pilobolus Dance Theatre was already on display with no curtain hiding the troupe’s preparations, no paper programs with choreographer’s notes, and no onstage announcements thanking sponsors and introducing directors. (Instead, a canned pre-recording from one of Balance Dance Company’s young dancers provided a welcome and a reminder to turn off phones.)
A distinctly black box vibe permeated the theater—an attempt to break down the distance between the performance and the viewers. It was a surprising moment of openness that continued throughout the evening.
The concert began with "Automaton," a collaboration between Pilobolus dancers and Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. Six dancers wearing white gloves, undershirts and suspenders robotically moved into mechanical assemblages, only to short circuit with vibrating contractions that triggered smooth natural movements. Three onstage mirrors rotated as each dancer confronted his or her own image, eventually stripping down to shifts and shorts while exploring the magnetic connections between themselves. Couples drifted into short duets and eventually formed an organic symbiosis, falling off-balance only to catch one another with interlocked ankles. A return to mechanical movement closed the piece, perhaps warning the audience to guard against an automated future.
"Skyscrapers," a tango-inspired reworking of choreographer Trish Sie’s music video for rock band OK Go, came off as a bit gimmicky. Brightly hued projections and quick costume changes took attention away from the partnering and sensuality of the dance—though clearly several of the dancers were not well versed in tango's subtlety. While seeming to evoke Paul Taylor’s popular masterwork Piazzolla Caldera, the piece lacked any nonlinear spatial movement or inventive partnering. It would have been nice to see more use of the stage space.
The evening's highlight, which drew the greatest audience reaction, was "Gnomen," a muscular male quartet that featured gymnastic lifts, partnered iron cross stalls and acrobatic, two-man cartwheels. Despite the work’s athletic quality, its quiet moments of relational connection, dissolution and dimorphic confusion spoke to the deeper meaning of living with and dying from disease. "Gnomen" is a poetic ode dedicated to former Pilobolan Jim Blanc, who died from complications from AIDS in 1996.
Electric closer "Megawatt" featured vigorous barrel rolls, exuberant tumbling—including an impressive series of back-handsprings by Jordan Kriston—and an open-ended dance circle with hip-hop windmills and flips. The piece was rousingly applauded by the audience. Despite the flagging energy evident in a few of the company members—dancer Nile Russell, in particular, seemed a bit pooped—the piece was a vibrant example of the allure of Pilobolus, an accessible, crowd-friendly wave goodnight.
Pilobolus Dance Theatre doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is: a talented group of artists who, in recent years, have tended to lean more on commercial appeal. But while this is a smart financial move, it makes their work less artistically satisfying for experienced dance appreciators. But Boise's standing ovation demonstrated a great appreciation for the company's accessibility and dedication.