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Dance and Music Reviews : Pilobolus' Outsider Theme in Royce Hall Performance

February 19, 1990|LEWIS SEGAL

If Pilobolus Dance Theatre once threatened the major moderns by championing unorthodox movement vocabularies adapted from gymnastics and other disciplines, it soon became a kind of sideshow, never on-track with the formal and thematic priorities of its era.

This sense of detachment evolved into the curious hothouse style evident during the company's program Friday in Royce Hall, UCLA. Ironically, two of the three pieces dealt with the effect of an outsider on a group--but so narrowly that any resonances were all but smothered.

Although mining its odd-man-out structure for comedy, "The Particle Zoo" essentially represented a study in male partnering. Created this year by Robby Barnett, Michael Tracy and Jonathan Wolken in collaboration with its four-man cast, it concentrated on surprising lifts: a dancer walking across the folded arms of his colleagues, for example, or being slung over someone's shoulders in a sequence of high-speed turns--with both performers spreading their arms wide and nobody holding on.

Periodically, "The Particle Zoo" (music by David Stout) suggested patterns of male aggression or bonding--but never as doggedly as "Land's Edge" (1986) pursued its theme of debasement and manipulation. Adam Battelstein was the despised alien in "The Particle Zoo." In "Land's Edge" (music by Paul Sullivan) it was Carol Parker's turn--though here the newcomer became a piece of flotsam to be mauled and discarded.

Choreographers Barnett, Wolken and Alison Chase devised one fabulous passage in which dapper, nasty twins (Jack Arnold and Kent Lindemer) hurled the limp, unconscious outsider around the stage like a giant rag-doll. Otherwise, the piece succumbed to crude characterizations, woozy atmosphere and very backdated notions of dance drama.

Moses Pendelton's outrageous "Debut C" (1988) contrasted the innocence of full nudity--male and female--with the lurid (and comic) overkill of sexual symbolism. Men lying on their backs and stroking long poles held between their thighs, upside-down women forming apertures in the air with their legs: These outsized depictions of genitalia looked ridiculously overwrought compared to the sight of Lindemer and Jude Woodcock dancing together in the buff.

Set against a hyperlush suite by the famous Claude D., "Debut C" also used poles to suggest wings, flutes, oars, tents, geometric shapes--even a ballet barre. Ultimately, however, its copious invention served to underline a small, naked truth: The facts of life are inevitably far less salacious than the strategies of art.

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