Before the TED Talk, before the silhouetted Little Miss Sunshine homage at the Oscars, before the Hyundai commercials, Pilobolus Dance Theatre was just four male jocks and two female dancers in a small Dartmouth College classroom exploring the gymnastics, structures and physical syntax of human physiology. The year was 1971, and modern dance was becoming less of a fringe art, tiptoeing into the popular consciousness.
On Saturday, March 2, Treasure Valley audiences will be assimilated into this ongoing exploration as Pilobolus 7, the troupe's repertory arm, invades the Morrison Center for an evening-length concert. The show, which begins at 8 p.m., will feature six recent pieces, including Gnomen (1997)—a muscular representation of relational mitosis and coalescence—and the robotic Automaton (2012). Also included is Symbiosis (2001), familiar to many from its presentation at a 2005 TED conference.
Now in its 41st year, Pilobolus is a worldwide phenomenon, collaborating with artists like graphic novelist Art Spiegelman—author of Maus—and parodied in Norwegian sushi commercials. Yet their work, shepherded by founding members Robby Barnett and Michael Tracy, remains rooted in exploring the foundations of existence through dance.
Unlike many contemporary dance companies, which focus on a single luminary, Pilobolus grew sunward in a manner similar to the phototropic fungus after which the group is named. Choreography was often a cooperative process, and the company still refers to itself as a collective.
Nowadays, Pilobolus is known less for its geeky examinations of biological processes and odes to sea organisms than it is for its rapturous shadow plays, cheeky television commercials and that OK Go music video, but it remains a benchmark for the type of work that defines modern dance.