Pilobolus Returns With Trademark Whimsy and New Twists

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Many people enjoy Pilobolus, some adore it, some find it exasperating. There are plenty of people in the first two categories, since Pilobolus reliably keeps the Joyce Theater filled for four weeks each summer. Whatever your point of view, you can't deny that this unique, quirky ensemble-now middle-aged at 41-remains true to its principles. A program note identifies it as "a community of artists who view the world as playfully as possible," and they continue to approach their work in a spirit of exploration and communal creation. Rather than showcase a single choreographer's vision, they prefer to investigate through group give-and-take, with multiple names sharing credit in the program. For the past five years, Pilobolus has ranged far and wide in seeking out collaborators for new works. For Azimuth, one of three 2012 premieres, they made the inspired choice of Michael Moschen, the veteran juggler/performer who has long specialized in setting unlikely objects in graceful motion. His performances often have a meditative, dream-like quality as he embarks on duets with sculptural objects that he manages to make into elegant, graceful partners. As an adventurous, fiercely disciplined creative investigator who defies easy categorization, he seems an ideal Pilobolus collaborator. He joined forces with longtime artistic director Michael Tracy and associate artistic director Renee Jaworski, as well as eight company members, on this project. Azimuth (whose title refers to the arc of the horizon) is a gentle reverie in which six Pilobolus dancers engage imaginatively with metal circles and arcs and several colorful balls. A giant metal ring, first held by a central dancer like a ceremonial object, then suspended above the action, is a dominant protagonist, seeming to awaken and set initially inert bodies into action. They try out the possibilities of the round objects-two dancers use a ball as a connective tissue between their bodies, others brandish and slice the air with semicircular metal sculptures. Three dancers pass three balls between them in a pattern that humorously mimics what a skilled juggler like Moschen would achieve with his two hands alone. In one of the more extended, fluid sequences, four dancers manipulate and move within the semicircular pieces, evoking a prison that entraps them while finding ways to use them to both join and divide their bodies. Varied musical textures and tempos, including a French-flavored accordion-dominated piece, provide a supportive impetus. It's interesting to watch the Pilobolus dancers, who usually lift and entwine each others' bodies, more engaged with the inanimate objects than each other. Azimuth has the look of a work that will cohere with further performances as the dancers relax into the specific challenges that Moschen has provided. It's an intriguing, and welcome, new byway for them to explore. This second of two programs is a notably somber one, with relatively little of the whimsy that is often a Pilbolus trademark. It includes Pseudopodia, the only work in the current repertory from the troupe's early years. Jun Kuribayashi is remarkable in this short but memorable solo, making a fluent argument against gravity as he twists, rolls and dives through seamless moves that are part extreme yoga, part pure daring invention. Korokoro, last year's collaboration with Takuya Muramatsu, sets Pilobolus in primal, ritual territory it has explored before, but makes a persuasive case for its tribe of seemingly stranded figures making do in an unforgiving environment. They link up for lifts and slow-motion feats of strength and counter-balance, but their struggles seem ultimately futile. Also from last year is the brief but effective All is Not Lost, a collaboration with Trish Sie set to a song by OK Go, in which dancers take clamber around and over a large clear table. As they alternately crawl and splay, glue themselves on and pry themselves off its surface, a video of their live action reveals what all this would look like to someone perched beneath the table. A new addition to Pilobolus' programs this year are brief films screened while the stage is reconfigured between pieces. Studies of bird in flight, traffic patterns and zany explosions not only serve their transitional purpose but fit in well with the Pilobolus zeitgeist. The other Pilobolus program includes Automaton, a collaboration with the busy Flemish choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, as well as their second music-video-inspired piece with Sie and OK Go. Pilobolus Through Aug. 11, Joyce Theater, 175 8th Ave. (at 19th St.), www.joyce.org; $10+.

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