MOMIX in Aspen: Going with the flow(ers)
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – In the corner of northern Connecticut where he lives, Moses Pendleton isn’t known as the founder of the inventive dance theater troupe MOMIX, or as a founding member of the groundbreaking Pilobolus Dance Theatre, or for the works he has created for the Lake Placid Winter Olympics, the Munich State Opera, the film “FX2,” or the Joffrey Ballet.
“I’m known as the sunflower grower,” Pendleton said from Alta, Utah, following a day of skiing at Park City.
Back in Connecticut, Pendleton, a uniquely colorful, talkative and clever 62-year-old, rents large swaths of a neighbor’s 200-acre organic farm, where he plants thousands and thousands of sunflowers. Pendleton adores the individual flower: “The spirality of the head of a sunflower is worthy of lengthy meditation,” he said. “And no two sunflowers are the same – they’re so personified.”
Pendleton also has a vast appreciation for what the individual sunflowers add up to visually. He grows his flock in a calculated manner so that, together, they make a spectacular arrangement which he then photographs in what he calls “Goldsworthian” fashion – a reference to the artist Andy Goldsworthy, known for creating works out of the natural landscape.
The reverence for sunflowers goes beyond the visual. Pendleton points out that no living organism has a closer relationship to the sun than the sunflower: “It represents the source,” he said. He loves the process of planting and tending: “I never tire of placing each seed in the soil, dancing on them, then watch how in a span of 80 days it becomes a small redwood tree. It has such a life force.” And he marvels at how that life comes to an end. He half-jokingly says that what he is really growing is an enormous bird-feeder, which hordes of blue jays feed on each October, more or less destroying the flowers, but leaving Pendleton infinitely entertained: “It’s a one-week feeding-frenzy festival.”
So the question is not why has Pendleton created “Botanica,” a full-length performance largely about flowers, but why this wasn’t the first work he created. One answer is that he had other works to invent: “Opus Cactus,” which illuminated the landscape (including the flora) of the American Southwest; “Baseball,” an improbably humorous ode to the national pastime; and the moon-oriented “Lunar Sea,” which was inspired by a shorter segment, “Noir Blanc,” that had been commissioned by the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet.
The way Pendleton puts it, creating a piece inspired by and about flowers was inevitable. “I figured if I was going to spend 90 percent of my time in a garden, I’d better be able to tractor that time and passion into a dance,” said Pendleton, who brings “Botanica” to the Aspen District Theatre on Saturday, Jan. 21, along with a shortened matinee for younger audiences. The performances are presented by the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet.
Pendleton brings up one sequence of “Botanica,” in which five women are dressed as marigolds. “So how do marigolds move? That’s what we try to explore,” he said. But like “Baseball,” which was performed in Aspen in 2005, “Botanica” embraces more than its titular subject. “Botanica,” which premiered three years ago, began not just with how flowers move, but also with Pendleton’s thoughts on man’s relationship to the rest of the natural world. “That’s an important part of being human – making connections with things that are not human. We want you to get the sense that we’re connected to flowers and trees and mythological beasts.”
Equally prominent in “Botanica” is the changing of seasons, and how those changes affect bees, trees and birds. “It’s a feeling of going through the seasons, MOMIX-style,” Pendleton said.
MOMIX-style means that, just as “Botanica” is not restricted to the botanical realm, the performance is not confined to dance. What MOMIX creates is dance theater, where costumes, lights and music are not background elements, but vivid parts of the performance. There are some 40 pieces of music included, from birdsongs to techno, violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter’s recording of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” to work by Peter Gabriel, Pendleton’s collaborator on the multimedia piece, “Passion.”
“I work more like a painter or sculptor than a choreographer,” Pendleton said. “So there’s an array of features and colors and movements. I think of MOMIX as something like what a good alchemist would spin.”
Pendleton also is capable of thinking like a poet – or a wordsmith, at least. His speech is filled with puns (which are not only of decent quality, but also seem to be made up on the fly). Get him talking about the etymology of MOMIX, and he’ll point out that it could be read as Mo Mix – a contraction of his first name, and the idea that he mixes artistic ideas. Put it might also be read as Mom and the Roman numeral for 9. And it’s very close to Moomix, an agricultural product which Pendleton, who was raised on a Vermont dairy farm, is intimately familiar with.
“As the son of a dairy farmer, I have agri-cultural roots. I’m the avant-gardener,” Pendleton punned. ” I kind of go with the flower. Or with the flow.”
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The city of Aspen’s office building is exempt from paying encroachment fees, yet private developers have to now pay $9 a square foot, per month, starting in 2020.