As encapsulating as the term contemporary dance is, somehow Pilobolus Dance Theatre, a shape-shifting company that will perform this weekend at Harbison Theatre at Midlands Technical College, doesn’t fit.
Body contortion, acrobatics, gymnastic and, oh yeah, dance, are the company’s signature performance elements. There’s more theater involved than “contemporary dance” can possibly suggest. Beyond that, Pilobolus is hard to decipher and describe – even for those who build and manipulate the company’s forms.
“It’s definitely not your standard, typical modern dance,” said Jun Kuribayashi, Pilobolus’ communications liaison, who is also a company dancer.
Pilobolus, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary, was founded in 1971 at Dartmouth College. The company’s name refers to a fungus that can shoot its spores up to 6 feet in the air, fitting since Pilobolus’ dancers are known to catapult each other.
Since inception, performances have hinged on physical exertion and interaction between dancers. The bodies, presented in various poses and configurations, create an intriguing language that isn’t beholden to centuries-old repertoire.
For the 2007 Academy Awards, Pilobolus re-created logos and scenes from popular movies, including “Snakes on a Plane” and “The Devil Wears Prada.” Last year, Pilobolus collaborated with OK Go, the band known for its athletic videos, on the clip for “All is Not Lost.”
It features the quartet, in tight body suits (though not nearly as revealing as what Pilobolus wears onstage), performing a series of dance steps that include a lot of bending, rolling, stretching and lifting. The band was shot from below, and the video was kaleidoscopically rendered.
“All is Not Lost” is one of five pieces the company, which incorporates video production, will perform at Harbison Theatre. Kuribayashi, who recently fractured a rib during a rehearsal lift, won’t be on the stage.
“All of these lifts are precarious,” he said. “You do have everybody’s lives at one time or another in your hands. You could easily smash their head on the ground.”
Kuribayashi is a typical Pilobolus company member in that his performance background – martial arts, including Capoeira, and breakdancing – is varied. He said the assorted backgrounds create more interesting work.
“The great thing about Pilobolus is that when you’re creating, you’re showing who you are,” Kuribayashi said.
Landing a back flip, after being hoisted – really, tossed – into the air by fellow dancers, is the kind of theatrical twist Pilobolus employs. And there’s always room for improvement.
“It’s not about what you’re doing, it’s why,” Kuribayashi said. “We find as a collective that there’s not much that is impossible. It’s all in how you look at it.”
Because of its vivacious costuming and hard-to-categorize performance art, Pilobolus is inevitably compared to Cirque du Soleil. While there are the aforementioned similarities, Pilobolus is a more intimate engagement.
“With Pilobolus, you have seven dancers on stage that fill two hours. You are always doing something,” said Kuribayashi, noting that Cirque shows feature a multitude of performers.
About the comparison, he said, “It is certainly a way to get people excited about Pilobolus.”
Pilobolus is about the individual and how that person’s body conforms. But, like Cirque, Pilobolus has a story to share.
“It’s a little bit more personal,” Kuribayashi said. “It’s about finding what’s interesting to us. It’s just a lot of creative play.
“We try to make sure you go on a journey.”
Reach Taylor at (803) 771-8362.