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'Untitled' Recycled : The Joffrey Ventures Some Prim Pilobolus

September 28, 1985|MARTIN BERNHEIMER | Times Music/Dance Critic

Pilobolus is many things. It is, or at least was, an avant-gardish communal dance company that produces wondrous new essays in gnarled and arty show-biz athleticism.

The group of six has been dabbling successfully, more or less, for 15 years now in bizarre acrobatics, torturous body-fusion rituals, variations on abstract and not-so-abstract expressive flirtation, bold turn-the-other-cheeky satire, exquisite demonstrations of physical permutation and combination and contortion, cornball gimmickry, obscure socio-political statements, and, yes, a sophisticated rainbow of pop kinetics.

Pilobolus, which happens to take its fraught-with-significance name from a sun-loving fungus that thrives in manure and shoots its spores long distance, is fun. It is stimulating fun, compelling fun, pretty fun, innocent fun, good dirty fun.

The fun, of course, doesn't have much to do with ballet. The Piloboli don't deal much with toe shoes. In fact, they don't deal much with shoes at all. They know that tutus are too, too silly. They think a grand jete is a big French airplane.

But strange things can happen in this brave new age of enlightened hippety-hop. Thursday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the squeaky clean, classically oriented, desperately versatile Joffrey Ballet had its way for the first time with a golden oldie from the Pilobolus warehouse: "Untitled."

Los Angeles initially saw it and loved it at UCLA in 1979, courtesy of the originators. The official apologia for the piece refers to "a duet for six . . . (that) grew out of enormous contention among all of us." The choreographic team admitted that the work is "elusive--even unfocused, but the ambiguity and open-endedness give it a flexibility. . . . allowing it to reflect an emotional spectrum that changes as we do."

The emotional spectrum has changed rather drastically in the translation of "Untitled" from brash Pilobolus psychodrama to quaint Joffrey excursion. The challenge is still mildly provocative, but what was once bold now looks cautious, and the intrinsic shock appeal has been sanitized.

Even in this literally dressed-up version, "Untitled" remains the most mixed mixed-metaphor this side of "Everyman," the Bible and "the CIVIL WarS." In 17 kaleidoscopic minutes, it explores the fantasies of two gentle Victorian ladies--Southern belles?--who indulge in some competitive preening, simpering and smiling before they rise 9 feet in the air with the surprising aid of muscular, masculine legs that happen to emerge from their billowing skirts.

Eventually, the owners of the legs emerge in toto from the skirts. Before the piece ends, the owners function as elevators, adjuncts to other people's bodies, convenient props, furniture, sex objects, and living devices that convey images of birth and death.

Eventually, the ladies and their hairy limb machines meet a pair of dapper dandies. The non-plot thickens as it takes on such subjects as macho power, courting patterns, inevitable jealousy, erotic confusion and the mutually compatible evolution of love and war.

In the wistful, mildly amusing Joffrey performance, the dancers often seem to be walking on eggs. Movement patterns that should flow simply jerk. Physical statements that should flash just sputter. Feats of balance and support that should look easy look very, very hard. The nature boys under the women's skirts, who used to be unabashedly naked, sport modest flesh-colored jock straps. It isn't quite the same.

The hard-working Joffrey sextet--Jill Davidson and Beatriz Rodriguez as the ladies, Patrick Corbin and Raymond Perrin as the nature boys, Jerel Hilding and Philip Jerry as the dandies--will no doubt learn more about thriving in manure and shooting spores. What they need is practice and repetition. In the meantime, we can savor the dainty approximations.

Robert Dennis' whimsical, conventional score was inexplicably reproduced on tape Thursday while an excellent orchestra sat idle in the pit.

The remainder of the super-eclectic bill involved familiar Joffrey fare: the lovely post-card romanticism of Gerald Arpino's "Italian Suite," the brutal anti-feminism of William Forsythe's mod "Love Songs," and the folksy glitz of Arpino's all-American "Jamboree." The evening produced one casualty, unfortunately, in Jodie Gates, whose injury in "Love Songs" forced the omission of the "Riverwalk" duet in the subsequent "Jamboree."

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