Saturday, October 20, 2018

Dance Review: Botanica Does Mother Nature Justice

Momix 1
As I walk away from The Joyce Theater thinking about the spectacle I have just witnessed, I have an epiphany: "Moses Pendleton is the kind of beacon that throws a heavy blanket of inspiration over dancers and non-dancers alike, bringing the world together with his art."  As my boyfriend walks out of the theater with me, he immediately tweets "Momix is amazing – go see their show!".  This non-dancer man is just as inspired as me as he rambles on and on about his favorite pieces of the night, the cool use of props and an interesting take on Mother Nature’s gifts. 

Momix 2Even though Mr. Pendleton tends to put the focus on the "show" factor in which the company showcases the brilliance of the concept as a whole (lights, costumes and props), the majority of the special effects enhance and showcase the dancers’ talents.  The moments when the dancers get to show off their full majesty are a little sparse for my liking, as it’s evident that these dancers have beautiful classical technique bubbling under the surface.  At times, I see the girls standing in an effortless turned out fifth with an uber-expressive port de bras that makes me want to see so much more "pure dance" without bigger than life headpieces/skirts (Marigolds) or hoses tethered to their arms (Night Crawlers).  Don’t get me wrong, I think these pieces are one of a kind, but they also hold the dancers back from fully using their bodies.   Of course, the same thing that makes me say, "Hold back on the props because I want more dance!"  also makes me say "What a beautiful picture!" and "How original!"

Pendleton features soloists in a fashion that always entails extensive reliance on the props, but as mentioned before, these props tend to enhance the dance and not detract from it.  In Glass Awakening, all of Sarah Nachbauer’s expressive movements are replicated by a mirror wedge sloped toward the audience, the reflections allowing everyone in the audience to see each image that’s formed.  Ms. Nachbauer’s reflection emphasizes the finesse and control in her movements as she duets with herself while executing slow dévelopées to the side and simple yet expressive port de bras.  Many times, she looks at her reflection and touches it with much love and admiration as if she is Narcisuss, while other times, she quickly looks away in fear.  The solo ends as she slowly sinks down behind the sloped wedge, the sound of a rippling pool of water echoing in our ears. 

Cassandra Taylor, performing Beaded Web, is another commendable soloist who uses her prop to bring her to new heights.  Ms. Taylor’s turning capability is highlighted because she must continue turning throughout the entire piece in order to keep sets of beads that form trains down the sides of her body levitated and spinning – at times, the beads spin so fast they look like a helicopter’s propeller or a humming bird’s wings, almost non-existent.  Ms. Taylor takes down her hair from her ballet-bun at the very end of the piece as the lights fade out on her hair spinning with the beads creating the illusion that her hair and the beads are one.

These dancers are absolute firecrackers.  Quickly changing from ethereal, soft movement to chaîné-jetés across the stage with a spot so sharp one almost doesn’t see the head turn, there is no telling what the next piece will bring.  The firecracker movement in New Green shows how brisk and precise these dancers are.  With only the the forearms and the bottom half of the legs glowing in an otherwise dark theater, three women dance a dance of shapes created by joining these glow-in-the-dark pieces together.  A larger than life ballet dancer, formed with only the forearms of the dancers, does tendus with the fiercest cashew foot you have ever seen.  Flamingos are formed and peck at each other before quickly transforming into swans.  My personal favorite moment is when all of the glow-in-the-dark parts come together to create a big sad face that quickly turns into a smiley face whose eye quickly winks at the audience before exiting the stage.

Momix 5Momix’s use of wind machines coupled with fabric is absolutely stunning!  The show begins with a windy winter storm and proceeds to a summer storm opening the second act.  In Frozen Land, dancers gradually rise up from beneath the silk-like material that is made to look like snow as the ‘winter storm wind’ creates ripples that run through it from one side of the stage to the other.  Still fully entrenched, shapes of bodies run toward the blowing wind before vanishing in thin air.  The collaboration of wind, choreography and fabric creates a surreal Dali-esque picture; the fabric-masked dancers only slightly resemble humans.  When the dancers drop down to the ground from the force of the storm, the tall snow-ripples make it look as though there is no longer a body underneath the material, creating the illusion that the shape has magically disappeared.

In Summer Storm, the thunderstorm soundtrack and undulating pieces of blue and white fabric create a severe storm before us, including a twin pair of tornadoes that two men create as they quickly spin the flag-like contraptions around themselves.  The female dancers make quick jeté passes in between the brewing storm clouds as they try to outrun the storm like fleeing birds.

Last Leaf is another praiseworthy creation involving the collaboration of material and multimedia.  Jon Eden gallantly carries on his back a white "leaf" as tall as the proscenium.  This leaf is tethered to Jon like a feather backpack on a Vegas showgirl.  He has the ability to open and close the leaf so that it goes from being as wide as 75% of the stage to looking like a closed Chinese fan.  The lights go down so that the multi-media is brightly projected only on the moving leaf.  As he bends forward, the leaf ripples toward the audience, catching different aspects of the pictured multi-media as it drops to the ground.  Jon Eden shows impressive control when he turns to the side, slowly waving the leaf forward to the ground and then backwards in a deep hinge.Momix 3

Mr. Pendleton’s injection of humor is sublime.  In Bird, Tsarra Bequette, dressed as a bird without a head, makes a couple of quick darts across the stage before pausing, "looking" at the audience to get her laugh and hurriedly running off in a perplexed manner.  The bird costume is ‘miniskirt short’, flaunting a pair of female legs as this bird daintily scurries, flicks, coupés and bourrées. 

There are instances of humor splashed all over the show, as I continually hear snickers and laughs coming from the audience, myself included.  Many of these absurd and quirky moments follow impassioned moments, showing off Pendleton’s balancing act of equally highlighting the beauty found in both the absurd and the profound.  The absurd combines with the practical when a man dressed as a snail crawls slowly across the stage dragging a heavy load – a bright green snail shell ten times bigger than his body.  Just when the audience snickers and assumes that this is just another short-lived comedic cameo, an insect-man is revealed behind the snail shell as Mr. Snail continues his slow journey off stage.  Insect man joins another man gliding across the stage with one foot strapped into a rollerskate in Insex.  Joshua Christopher and Rob Laqui do a fine job portraying hungry insects as they sharply expand and contract their ribcage and open and close their mouths while they search for grub.

Momix 4Nudity is to Botanica as a daffodil is to spring – organic and aesthetically pleasing.   In Old Bones, Sarah Nachbauer portrays a cave woman who befriends a living Triceratops skeleton, one of Michael Curry’s puppet designs that proves that he has scored once again with his puppet and prop creations for Momix.  Ms. Nachbauer frolics with the dinosaur that she believes is her friend before being consumed by it, writhing inside of its ribcage.  Rob Laqui comes alive after resting on one of the two rock piles, both of which come alive and wrap themselves like boa constrictors around the caveman .  After a dramatically harsh struggle, Mr. Laqui overcomes the menacing rock piles that have been clinging to his body and dances a beautiful duet with Ms. Nachbauer after she has successfully freed herself of the now dead Triceratops.  Ancient Stones is full of sweeping lifts and primitive longing as their pre-historic, half nude bodies melt into one another. 

God’s Hammer reveals every member in the company as a blooming nude rose.  Flesh piles onto one another in a pattern as intricate as overlapped rose petals, mirroring the image of a red rose projected behind the bodies. They bloom and reach for the sun before closing in on one another as the rose withers.

What better way to connect every kind of person than to accentuate the natural symmetries, rituals and behaviors of the planet Earth?  Moses Pendleton not only links traits of the Earth together to create an extravaganza of dance and media, but also reveals caricatures of certain aspects of the natural world, bringing humor and a unique perspective on the Earth that we live on.  Pendleton stains a lasting imprint of Momix’s Botanica in the mind of the viewer with this unparalleled evening of Mother Nature’s quirks, by way of unmistakable genius with just the right twist of humor.

Bravo to all of the dancers for an intriguing performance: Jon Eden, Steven Marshall, Rob Laqui, Donatello Iacobellis, Sarah Nachbauer, Simona DiTucci, Cassandra Taylor ,Tsarra Bequette, Joshua Christopher, and Jennifer Chicheportiche

Photos Courtesy of: Max Pucciariello and Don Perdue

iDANZ Critix Corner 
Official Dance Review by Adrienne Jean Fisher
Choreographer: Moses Pendleton
Performance: Momix’s Botanica
Venue: The Joyce Theater, New York City 
Date: May 13th, 2009

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