Pilobolus dance troupe in residence at Fairfield University
Pilobolus has been touring the globe with its unique brand of modern dance for more than 40 years, but Connecticut audiences are getting a much more personal view of the company this summer and early fall.
The troupe put on a “Five Senses Festival” of performances, talks and public workshops at its Washington, Conn., headquarters over three weekends in July and August. They are following up that special event with a two-month residency at Fairfield University that will include a number of dance shows along with “play workshops” for both children and adults.
Pilobolus hopes these offstage events will remove the barrier between performers and audience, allowing fans and neophytes a behind-the-scenes look at a company whose beautiful, athletic dance pieces are almost impossible to capture in words.
“It’s a common question that is difficult to answer,” education and community manager Emily Kent says when asked to describe a Pilobolus performance.
“What they will see in Fairfield is a wide range of work,” she adds of “Shadowlands 1 & 2” and a program mixing old and new pieces over the weekend of Sept. 21-22.
But the add-ons of the residency include a free outdoor show called “UP!” in which the light is supplied by umbrellas given to the audience. A dozen workshops, starting Aug. 14 and running through Oct. 18, will give members of the public a chance to interact with company members (and you don’t need any dance training to participate).
“You’ll get to see our own little world,” Kent says of the performances of old and new Pilobolus dances. “We are a lot about the body, the movement of people together, physical partnership and technique... a very human performance.”
“What we (present) is the human fugure in all of its forms,” she adds of pieces that mix aesthetics with athletics.
Kent believes it is the athletic side of Pilobolus that tends to make fans of the people who might be dragged along to a performance by a spouse who loves dance. You don’t need to study up on a libretto or research reviews to get what the company does.
The troupe has always resisted the idea of “explanations” or a single correct opinion for a given dance piece. “There is not one right answer,” she says, adding that no one needs to say of a company performance, “I like it but what was it about?”
Pilobolus might be closer to the world of abstract art than a traditional ballet company presenting “Sleeping Beauty” or “Giselle.” Each viewer is free to draw his or her own conclusion about what they see, and they won’t find any resistance to those thoughts from company members.
Kent’s husband, Matt, who is co-artistic director of Pilobolus, believes one of the strengths of the company is the diversity of the dancers, who are of different races and display different body types.
“Our aesthetic is not collective,” he explains. “We’re not a group who wants everyone on stage to look the same. ... (We are looking for) real authentic movers, who look different, act different and speak with different voices.”
Matt says the interaction with the public during the Fairfield residency is a throwback to the roots of Pilobolus, which was founded by seven young people during the counterculture era, in 1971.
One of the founders, Jonathan Wolken, gave the group its name, which is derived from a fungus his father was studying in a lab that grows with amazing strength, speed and accuracy.
“That was a time period with a lot of group activity — protests, sing-a-longs — all of that. (We are) encouraging our audience to move and shift from being a spectator to being a part of the work,” he adds.
In one of the performance pieces, “Come to Your Senses,” an audience member is asked to participate in what is happening on stage. The free show on Sept. 7 at 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. — “UP!” — completely merges the audience with the dancers.
“We are really excited to open our arms and create a community,” Matt says.
“I have classes for every person,” Emily adds of the Fairfield workshops. “55 and up ... kids on the autism spectrum. ... People who have studied dance and people who haven’t. It’s just all about getting people to move.”
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