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Mesmerizing MOMIX: Illusionist dance company comes to Aspen

Kimberly Nicoletti
Special to The Aspen Times
MOMIX's 'Millennium Skiva.'
Sharen Bradford

Sensual. Dreamlike. Mind-blowing. Artistic. Energetic. Mesmerizing. Hilarious: These words can’t even begin to sum up MOMIX’s magic.

Moses Pendelton, artistic director of MOMIX, co-founded the ground-breaking Pilobolus Dance Theater in 1971, and after half a century, he still hasn’t come close to running out of innovative visions for the human body on stage.

Sunday, Pendelton’s MOMIX continued to stun the audience at Beaver Creek’s Vilar Performing Arts Center — and I don’t say that lightly. My companion for the evening, a fellow figure skater, described the mind-boggling dance-illusion as a “reset for the brain.” And, indeed, it was. My mind alternated between trying to figure out how human bodies were actually pulling off what I saw, to just letting go and enjoying what sometimes felt like an otherworldly, or psychedelic, experience.



Take, for instance, “Echoes of Narcissus.” Staged on a slanted mirror, the concept of falling in love with a watery reflection of the self came through perfectly clear. But try to track exactly what illusionist-dancer Seah Hagan was physically doing with what appeared to be four legs, four arms, two heads and two upper bodies, and the world onstage suddenly turned alien; Hagan transfigured the human form into a multitude of possibilities.

“Snow Geese” similarly boggled the brain. What appeared as huge birds with wings spread wide floating above the stage was really five dancers dressed mostly in black, except for their long arms, wrapped in white clothing and glowing from black lights. While some illusions seem to pop the amazement bubble once you’ve figured out the mechanics behind the mystery, “Snow Geese” didn’t suffer that fate. Glowing white wings morphed into lips, hearts, snakes and fascinating singular shapes with level changes, drawing you out of your head and into an unfolding, present-moment fantasy.




Other pieces, like “Marigolds” or “Aqua Flora” employed costumes that would make Hollywood’s elite — and Cirque du Soleil — envious. Beginning with enormous puffs of orange and red ruffles, five performers slowly revealed an arm, a face, legs, then somehow danced their way into fluffy tutus, which ultimately ended up adorning their ankles. “Aqua Flora” took a different approach to costume conversion, beginning with Hagan seemingly contained in a cage, which, through a series of dizzying spins, flew overhead in a white whirlwind.

Costumes continually transform in MOMIX’s ‘Marigolds.’
JohnKane

Just the physics of costuming and props is amazing enough, but MOMIX doesn’t stop there. These dancers are top notch; the amount of technical skill, strength, flexibility and showmanship it takes to deliver MOMIX’s high-level choreography requires elite training in ballet and modern dance, not to mention gymnastics and partnering.

Jason Williams blends gymnastics with dance in MOMIX’s ‘Table Talk.’
Max Pucciariello

The strength that it took in pieces like “Pole Dance,” a tribal tribute featuring three men momentarily suspending themselves on long, non-anchored wooden poles, was notable. But what makes MOMIX’s performance so remarkable overall is the fact that only nine dancers deliver 17 or so pieces, all of which require not only ornate costume changes, but also an extraordinary amount of physical conditioning. “Table Talk” is akin to an Olympic-level gymnastics routine (only much more artistic), while the quad and core strength and flexibility that “Millennium Skiva” demands would challenge any World Cup skier. The latter harkens back to the days of ballet skiing, though this iteration extends beyond what any ballet skier ever dreamed of in the 1990s — and what any other dance company would dare do, in terms of binding their feet to skis on stage.

Alison Coleman and Jason William’s flexibility and strength is stunning in MOMIX’s ‘Millennium Skiva.’
Sharen Bradford

Pendleton’s perpetual interest in “using the human body to investigate non-human worlds” is evident throughout a MOMIX show. Pieces like “Solar Flares” employ orange pool noodles to reflect everything from the phenomenon it’s named for, to creatures mimicking sea urchins. “Baths of Caracalla” soaks audiences in the speed and opalescent-lit illusion of flying fabric and belly dance traditions. “Man Fan” features a floor-to-ceiling fan, which, at times, spreads horizontally across the stage, echoing full-breath undulations.

Flowing skirts in MOMIX’s ‘Baths of Caracalla’ feature opalescent lighting.
Max Pucciariello

And then, there’s “If You Need Some Body,” aka dancing with dummies, which I won’t ruin for you, other than to say it’s downright hilarious.

While most potpourri of dance performances leave you with favorite pieces reverberating in your mind, MOMIX’s extraordinary inventiveness will likely leave you hard pressed to pick just one favorite. It’s the type of show you could see night after night — I’d bet for at least a dozen days straight — and you still wouldn’t get bored as you immerse yourself into a “stream of unconsciousness,” as Pendleton terms it. His goal:

“For you to sit back, enjoy the magic and take in the optical confusion.”

If you go (and you must)…

OK, so that’s a little heavy handed, but this family-friendly dance-illusion performance is one of the best I’ve seen in a very long time.
What: MOMIX
Presented by: Aspen Santa Fe Ballet
When: 8 p.m. Sept. 6
Where: Aspen District Theater
Tickets: Start at $36
More info: aspensantafeballet.com

The beginning of MOMIX’s ‘Marigold.’
Max Pucciariello
A few of the movements in MOMIX’s ‘Millennium Skiva’ seem to harken back to the days of ballet skiing.
MOMIX Millinenum Skiva 2018 pc Sharen Bradford-8516[100]
MOMIX’s ‘Millennium Skiva’ requires amazing strength and flexibility.
Sharen Bradford

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