Sunday, February 1, 2009

Dance review: Show too mixed to make enough mo

A scene from Momix's Lunar Sea.

By Sharon McDaniel

LAKE WORTH -- Acrobats -- supple contortionists, really -- perch spider-like on slender poles. Slowly, poles and people spin until airborne, circling the space above the Duncan Theatre stage.

In effect, Momix defined itself more as a verb than a dance company in works like the airborne Sputnik (Fellow Traveler). You might say that “to momix” is to feint, fool the eye, play tricks with gravity, and stretch the limits of the human spine.

With its many props -- they lean from unusual to surreal -- Momix could transform geometry into art (as in Dream Catcher, with its rolling sculpture of interconnected parabolas) and, seemingly, bend light as dramatically as the seven pairs of company legs.

At such moments, the sold-out Duncan audience Friday night found itself momixed. Yet for every moment of uplift and awe, The Best of Momix program more often left viewers high and dry. It featured 15 brief works spanning the company’s 30 years. But the string of little five-minute solos, duets and trios felt like a long, choppy dance-school showcase. Excerpts from the larger ballets Lunar Sea and Passion couldn’t break the impression.

Therein lies the contradiction. At its best, Momix’s unconventional movement, surprising costumes and strong athletic dancers merge Cirque du Soleil with Olympic gymnastics. Only a few works – such as Millennium Skiva, the exploits of futuristic, silver-suited, downhill skiers Nicole Loizides and Brian Simerson that closed the first half -- rose above run-of-the-mill.

Momix, like Pilobolus, also co-founded by artistic director Moses Pendleton, has sustained a singular stature in contemporary dance. Yet as specialized and unconventional as Momix is, it performed too many pieces with a near-identical feel.

Visually, there were the outstretched wavy arm motions of South India, the prayerful yogic poses, the backdrops of in-the-wilds nature scenes. Aurally, despite music gathered from around the globe and vocals in many languages, most ballets are set to the slow, meditative New Age or Hearts of Space sound -- the type with “spirit” somewhere in the title. The predictability of mood, music and movement set in quickly in the first half.

Still, there was Moon Beams (from Lunar Sea) for three perky pixies who bounce and romp with enviable ease on large exercise balls. The Last Vaudevillian, a solo for human-size puppet and set to a rascally Yiddish-language song, is welcome comic relief.

With tremendous stamina and dramatic presence, soloist Heather Magee performed the program’s most extensive use of conventional modern dancing: the stirring, nonstop ribbon dance Zaar (from Passion). And Loizides spins as smoothly as a top, regardless of changing speed or prop, completely throughout two other solo works: Aqua Flora and The Wind-Up.

Least effective was Pole Dance, an impression of an Australian hunting ceremony. Not only had the three men too little purpose for the 7-foot- to 8-foot-long poles, but Pendleton’s choreography ignores the glorious, triumphant male chorus that closes the score.

An overlong E.C. (Extra Celestial, 1982) more than exhausts the combinations of light and screens, silhouettes and puppet/shadow play beyond even humor and satire. Geese, too, overworked black light until the concept had no place to go but slapstick.

Finally at the company’s upbeat concluding bow, the dancers could let out their personalities, defined by their best break-dancing stunts and high-flying MTV moves. Other ah-hah moments of tricky partnering, exceptional control, balance and timing included the duet/body sculpture Tuu (Rebecca Rasmussen and Samuel Beckman, a Miami native), and the on-the-wild-side Gila Dance – the moonstruck antics of a centipede-like critter played by four humans, each of whom makes up a body segment.

Next in the Duncan’s dance series is the renowned Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, at 8 p.m. Feb. 20 and 21. For tickets, call (561) 868-3309 or visit www.pbcc.edu/x1794.xml. Performances take place at the Duncan Theatre on the campus of Palm Beach Community College in Lake Worth.

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