Though the images created in contemporary dance might more often suggest emotional landscapes than physical ones, there are always exceptions. Certainly a full-length evening of dance (made up of many short pieces) that focuses on visions of the desert — the creepy (Gila monster) and the crawly (insects), the prickly (giant saguaro) and the pretty (sunflowers) — is out of the ordinary. But that’s precisely what you’ll see when Momix presents Opus Cactus at the Providence Performing Arts Center (October 8 at 8 pm).
Momix is actually the name of a milk supplement for field cows, which comes out of Momix’s founder and artistic director Moses Pendleton’s childhood on a Vermont dairy farm. But Pendleton also wants the name to convey the multi-genre "mix" that’s included in Momix’s performance pieces, from pole-vaulting to puppetry, from athletic prowess to aerial routines. He actually prefers to call his dancers " movement illusionists."
"There’s a great deal of magic in our work, not just dance," he pointed out, on the phone from Momix’s studio in Washington, Connecticut. "We use specific lighting, a simple set, various props to create an illusion of a desert landscape at twilight. Nonetheless, the most special illusion we have is the human body — it takes a great deal of physical training to execute a four-man Gila monster."
The humor in that image suffuses much of Opus Cactus, whether two people are rolling and flying through a giant spinning jungle gym, two men are hanging momentarily in the air with their hands on a long pole, a dancer appears to be going in one direction when he’s actually moving in the opposite (a trick of costuming), or a dancer runs across the stage with his feet on fire!
"It’s not terrifically funny, but there’s a whimsical element and a lightness that we take quite seriously," Pendleton admitted. "We don’t want to take the oxygen out of a space. There’s enough of that on CNN; I don’t want to add to that. Sometimes it’s more the surprise of it: that expectation of the unexpected that can emit a sigh of smiles."
Pendleton has been going for the unexpected ever since he was an original member of Pilobolus for 10 years in the ’70s. In his first solo there, titled "Momix," he used a pole as a surrogate leg, and his fascination with poles has persisted ever since.
"You could call us a pole dance theater and you wouldn’t be so far off," he quipped. "I never thought of myself as a dancer; I was interested in visual theater. If there was a prop — a stick, a costume, a light — I’d use it. If it helps you get a different picture, then it increases the visual look of the show. Even a giant balloon can give you another image, another essence."
Another key atmospheric component is the music, culled from 21 different sources for Opus Cac[sh-0edhus: from aboriginal to Arabic to African rhythms; from Bach to Eno; from "Pigs in Space" by Mickey Hart to "First Contact" by Douglas Spotted Eagle.
"You can put people in a trance if you close your eyes and just listen to the music," Pendleton noted. "The audience doesn’t need to follow a story line — there’s a sense of this other element in the show."
Pendleton found the most challenging part of Opus Cactus to be putting all the disparate elements together — he’s still tweaking it here and there. He had the most fun during the creative process when he was doing "research" in the Arizona desert, taking evening hikes and communing with the saguaros.
"You might say I was pricked by the environment," he joked. "Overall, my intention as a director was to get humans to play the roles of flora, fauna, even minerals. I wanted to show how the body can make connections beyond the human."
And as much as his total effort is artistic, Pendleton doesn’t shy away from the entertainment aspect of his work: "A lot of times you worry if it’s dance, that it’s going to be a long evening. I believe: entertain first; then enlighten right after that.
"I try to put an aesthetic on the athletic," he added. "If it’s more musical, then it’s dance, in the sense that these are dancers. It’s not Cirque de Soleil. But it is non-linear, visual, physical theater, with sometimes a surreal nature."
Almost any desert at twilight is, after all, pretty surreal. So go for the magic of Opus Cactus and be amazed by the dance.
FirstWorksProv is taking it to the streets
FirstWorksProv continues its second fall festival with a Saturday (October 8) brimming with possibilities to "experience the art of what’s new," in their words, by featuring non-mainstream art and artists in many different genres.
Pixilerations v.2, a series of interactive installations by 40 digital media artists, continues through October 15 at the Space at Alice, 186 Union Street, and on October 8 from 4 to7 pm. At 10 pm, Pixileration v.2 performances begin at the newly transformed 3000-square-foot storefront of the Pixilerations Gallery, 191 Westminster Street. Admission is free.
Saturday evening kicks off at 6 pm on Westminster Street, with an Urban Carnevale multi-media event of live music, arts electronica and dance, featuring the Shinbone Alley Stiltband, Timinandi West African Music, lighted costumes by Pink Inc. (modeled by Fusionworks Dance Company dancers), Paula Hunter and a Raku Rhody-o Fire Sculpture Project. All performances at this JumpStart are free.
The party moves over to the Providence Performing Arts Center at 8 pm for Momix’s Providence premiere of Opus Cactus (see to the right). Tickets start at $17 and may be purchased at PPAC, by calling 401.421.2787, or at www.ppacri.org.
Following Momix at an expanded Tazza Caffé (250 Westminster Street, $10) from 10 pm to 2 am, San Francisco’s dj Cheb i Sabbah will spin a multi-layered musical journey through raga and electronica, alongside dancers, musicians and transforming visuals for a night of Arabic and Asian music. This Algerian-born DJ will mix and match intricate melodies and pounding drumbeats to keep entranced listeners swinging and swaying. Dj Cheb I Sabbah has played around the world, from New York’s Knitting Factory to LA’s Getty Center. He has assembled new compositions from recordings he himself has made of traditional and classical artists. Throughout his musical journey, dj Cheb i Sabbah has paid homage to his Sephardic Jewish and Arab Andalusian roots, and he has built on his early days of working with the Living Theatre troupe to turn the spinning of discs into a strong theatrical act.
Performing with dj Cheb i Sabbah will be Sufi singer Riffat Sultana, the first woman from her family’s 500-year musical heritage to perform publicly in the West. Her father, Ustad Salamat Ali Khan, was touted as the finest Pakistani classical singer of his time. Sultana’s vocals have been recorded for numerous labels, and in 2004, Quincy Jones featured her on his "We Are the Future" concert.
Issue Date: October 7 - 13, 2005
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