Pilobolus is a small fungus that reproduces by generating a spore-filled bladder that ripens and then explodes with incredible force. Jonathan Wolken, co-founder and artistic director of the dance company Pilobolus, wants the company to be similarly awe-inspiring.
"When the company is creating a dance or experimenting with a movement," Wolken says, "I ask myself, Will this make people's eyes pop out?"
Pilobolus will be at the Germantown Performing Arts Centre on Saturday, October 1st, and will hold two master classes, in the morning and afternoon, before performing later that evening.
Wolken claims to have lost some of his physical energy with age, but his imagination seems to be running at a fever pitch. "Creating a dance is like cooking food," he says. "You just keep adding flavors, keep spicing things. You never want to limit yourself."
Wolken describes Pilobolus as an amalgam of theater and movement. This notion of multiple ideas building to a more powerful whole has been part of the company since the beginning. The group, which was founded in 1971 by students at Dartmouth College, has always relied on a collaborative choreographic process to generate its work. "To create a piece we go into the studio and we simply play. The process is intended to be less dictatorial than most choreography," says Wolken.
Pilobolus' GPAC performance will feature four pieces, one of which, Aquatica, is brand-new and another, Walklyndon, is one the company's earliest works. "I think we benefit as a company by returning to these touchstones, these seminal works in our history," says Wolken.
Walklyndon was designed as a colorful romp, performed without any music, only the sounds of the troupe's rollicking action. The attention to slapstick and vaudeville and the sheer physical intensity mark Walklyndon as a classic within the Pilobolus repertoire.
The bill also features Day Two, a work created nearly a decade after Walklyndon. This work follows life's trajectory, from its earliest appearance on earth to the moment when life took flight. The piece has strong narrative elements and was created through collaboration. "Most of the time we don't come into the studio with a fixed idea of what we're going to produce," Wolken explains. "The dances are created first, without music." The plot and music are then layered onto the dance. In the case of Day Two, Brian Eno and the Talking Heads provide the soundtrack to the primal atmosphere.
"I may be a lot older than I was when I started this, but I'm still in love with the insanity of movement, " says Wolken. Insanity may seem like a strange word to use, but seeing Pilobolus live changes the way you think about your body. Pilobolus is a company that defies expectations.
Having been in the business for 30 years, Wolken knows the importance of creating a dance that can stand on its own. "The people in the company change over time, the river flows on. As we get older, we get wiser, and we have to start to let some of these pieces speak for themselves."
Indeed, Pilobolus, based in Connecticut, is a great company because its appeal is self-evident. You don't have to be a hard-core dance enthusiast to appreciate the power and ingenuity of form that Pilobolus prides itself on. This is dance that revels in the appeal of movement, not the conceptual framework that may surround it.
"We are a company that never employs smoke and mirrors," Wolken says.