Theater archives

Expecting the Expected


Some things you can count on. Pilobolus will have a summer season at the Joyce, and in work after work, dancers will appear to grow out of one another in spooky, erotic, or comical ways. Eiko & Koma, wherever they perform, will burrow into each other or merge with other substances so slowly that, watching, you may imagine mushrooms growing up between your toes.

True, Pilobolus has evolved since the first appearance of four smart and agile Dartmouth friends—Robby Barnett, Lee Harris, Moses Pendleton, and Jonathan Wolken—in 1971. The flying linkages, cantilevered lifts, and curious conjunctions of body parts that form the basis of the collaborative group’s style not only display prowess and wit but plumb metamorphosis, nightmare, sexuality, and religious imagery. Expect one person to become another person’s helmet or mask.

Symbiosis (2001) was choreographed by Michael Tracy (he, Barnett, Wolken, and Alison Chase direct the company now) and the dancers, Otis Cook and Renée Jaworski. In it, the pair slowly, beautifully, and interminably mingle like an instinctual Adam and Eve regretting the moment when that rib was separated from its original owner. Finally Cook, sitting, rolls into darkness while Jaworski, amazingly, stays perched on his curled-over back. In Tracy’s latest collaboration, My Brother’s Keeper, Cook, Jaworski, Ras Mikey C, and Mark Fucik, like the two in Symbiosis, cast occasional glances skyward, and for most of the dance they work in couples, with the brawnier Cook and Fucik cartwheeling the lighter-weight Jaworski and C through the air. The piece hints at a Cain and Abel enmity-within-closeness, at games all four can share, at domination of the weaker by the stronger, at tenderness. In a strange man-beast image, one dancer is borne along standing on another’s calves. Like many Pilobolus pieces, Keeper seems long, and choppy despite its fluid dynamic—as if it were constructed out of a bunch of intriguing, what-can-we-do-next ideas.The excellent St. Lawrence String Quartet accompanied all the dances (except that early catalog of dopey encounters, Walklyndon) the first week, as well as performing musical interludes. Geoff Nuttall, Barry Shiffman, Lesley Robertson, and Alberto Parrini played Christos Hatzis’s score for My Brother’s Keeper; the various pieces for Symbiosis (including that ubiquitous beauty, Arvo Pärt’s Fratres); and Dmitry Shostakovich’s String Quartet no. 8, op. 110, for the 1991 Sweet Purgatory. Matt Kent and Jennifer Macavinta join the other powerful dancers for this last exercise in haunted athletics.

It’s raining lightly the night I endure Eiko & Koma’s potent Offering in the St. Mark’s churchyard (some lucky viewers are seated under canopies). Years ago the centuries-old tombstones were laid flat, so some spectators sit on the dead. Which seems appropriate. An immense object, over five feet tall, looms before us. It’s like a ruined, blackened sarcophagus, except that crooked dead branches project from it. After lighting the many candles stuck into this thing, Koma kneels beside a mound of earth and presses his face to it. Suddenly I imagine that Eiko is buried there and that he will uncover her. I wouldn’t put it past these two. But no, she enters slowly, dragging an arrow, becoming more infirm as she walks to the mound and lies beside him. Friday-night car horns blare down Second Avenue, but recorded crickets persist. Then he does bury her—struggling to do so—leaving only her whitened face, one hand, and two dirt-smeared feet showing.

Offering is a hymn to struggle, to survival and rebirth. The tenor voice singing lieder that suddenly floats above the dark scene belies the effort it takes for Eiko to unbury herself, for the two to grope together, to make it to standing, to walk to the bier. Many times they sink down; often they reach slowly for each other as if miles stretch between them. A few onlookers tiptoe away; Eiko and Koma addicts huddle, transfixed, under their umbrellas; the rain dwindles.

At various times, the two struggle to rotate the massive object, leaning into the branches. Earth spills over its sides as Eiko slowly clambers onto it. Her shadow climbs the church wall. Choral voices mutter and sing. Everything takes an eternity. Koma lights more candles and pinions Eiko with a barricade of arrows thrust into the soil around her. As the two of them awkwardly come together up there, she disregards the arrows, which fall away. The eating of dirt and the rubbing of it on one another are clumsy, laborious remnants of a ritual performed by people who’ve forgotten how to do it or are barely alive. As the lights fade, though, they’re pushing the dark object, and it’s moving—in slow, lumbering circles.