Moses Pendleton’s program-length Opus Cactus, featured Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday in the Momix season at the Joyce, is a collection of toys designed to beguile adults not necessarily addicted to dancing. Inspired by the sunstruck landscape of the American Southwest and the rituals of its indigenous peoples, the piece proceeds as a series of vignettes. Through clever illumination and costuming, an ugly spotted blob of a chrysalis miraculously blooms into a ravishing flower of delicate, swirling petals. Three men manipulate giant poles that are at once symbols of hieratic dignity, lethal weapons, and devices that launch them through space. Four complementary women maneuver immense golden fans to represent the blazing light that gives them radiance and the pleated skirts that decorously shield them.
Pendleton uses all his familiar tools here: bodies that couple to produce the weird shapes of sci-fi biology; gracefully rendered athletic feats invented to tease the laws of gravity; props wielded so they seem to harbor their own kinetic energy; fantastic puppetry in the Julie Taymor vein; and haunting music from an ostentatiously eclectic mix of composers. This stuff, used to provide a stream of pretty, pretty, pretty images, offers a mild sort of entertainment. While related to dancing in that the moving body is essential to it, the piece is rarely satisfying in dance terms. All too typical of Momix productions, it lacks both structure and texture, as well as any content that fails to yield its meaning at a single glance. For the most part it also lacks (or chooses to ignore) the uncanny power of dance to evoke emotion without recourse to language or even narrative. Every once in a while, though, suggestive substance creeps in; for the dance fan wondering why on earth he’s at a Momix show, this is an immense reprieve.