Sunday, October 26, 2008

Momix: Acrobatic Antics and Impossible Illusions

The 2008-2009 Mondavi Center season is officially under way, and I'm thrilled to be back, blogging about the wonderful programs offered this year.

Today I took in "Momix: The Best of Momix" along with an appreciative and packed audience at Jackson Hall. Momix, the brain child of Moses Pendleton, is basically a spin-off of "Pilobolus Dance Theater," another acrobatic, inventive and illusion-based company. You may know Pilobolus from their shadow puppet antics on the Oscars and in the Hyundai car commercials. Momix is no stranger to the commercial scene either - the women of Momix were recently featured in the "Look who we've got our Hanes on Now" campaign.

And that's what's so great about Momix -- they are accessible...and I don't mean accessible in a "it's not really art" way, but rather in a "it's getting a diverse group of people to see and enjoy dance" way.

Case in point: seated next to me was a four year old who was asking the most honest, observant and completely uncensored questions. "How are they doing that?" "Is that real?" "Is she pretending to be dead?". Sitting behind me, a septagenarian couple couldn't hold back the "oohs," the "ahhs," and the "wows!" And as a former professional dancer myself, knowing some of the tricks of the trade, so to speak, leaves me slightly less in wonder, but certainly does not diminish my appreciation of the skill, trust, and coordination needed to accomplish these image-rich feats of acrobatics.

I first saw Momix in 1993 (it was actually my first modern dance experience), so in a way, seeing them again today was nostalgic. The company hasn't changed much since those days of the early 90s - and in fact, several of the pieces on the "Best of..." program were from that era. The company uses large props and structures and fully investigates the movement possible with/in/around/above/below these "toys". With "Moon Beams," 3 women boing, roll, slink, split and handstand around physioballs (those big balls you see people doing sit-ups on in the gym) in the delightfully quirky romp. “Pole Dance” showcases 3 men launching themselves in the air and swirling themselves around the poles with a gazelle-like athleticism. “Tuu,” a male-female duet is like the love child between a Cirque du Soleil hand balancing act and the Arabian duet from “The Nutcracker”.

The classic “Millenium Skiva” features a man and women in skis – leaning impossibly, levitating, and generally using the skis in ways normal people would never think possible. In the elegant “Dream Catcher,” a man and a woman navigate a giant mobius strip, jungle gym, German wheel-like apparatus. The performers’ strong yet fluid movement quality prevents this from looking like another circus stunt. My favorite piece of the evening is probably “Sputnik (Fellow Traveler)” featuring a contraption resembling the Soviet satellite the piece is named for. This prop looks and acts like the space equipment - impossibly allowing the dancers to fly and float in orbit around the woman seated in the center cog. The weightless and apparent effortlessness of this piece is truly hypnotizing. Rounding out the evening are two whirling dervish solos performed by Nicole Loizides, and a few other crowd favorites like “Gila Dance” (a 4-man snake) and “E.C.” (a shadow dance which predates the car commercials).

Can’t wait for the next show! See you there!

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