Review: Pilobolus Presents SHADOWLAND

By: Dec. 01, 2015
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Last weekend was a big one for dance lovers in New York, with audiences having the choice to see Complexions Contemporary Ballet and Twalya Tharp's 50th Year Anniversary. Instead, I choose to venture to NYU's Skirball Center for the Performing Arts to see Pilobolus Dance Theatre's North American premiere of "Shadowland," a work that delivered theatrical storytelling, athletic movement, and a stunning staging.

Pilobolus collaborated with Steven Banks (writer for SpongeBob Square Pants) and David Poe (musician and composer) to create the unique evening work. The concept for "Shadowland" originated from a 2007 Oscar performance, where Pilobolus captured iconic film images in live shadow movement. The concept developed into the full evening work, telling the story of a teenage girl's adventure into a mysterious shadow world, one that would captivate adults and delight younger children.

The dance opened with the main character falling into her nightgown, then traveling through various worlds. Most notable scenes were pots trying to chase escaped plants, underwater settings with the formation of a seahorse, and a circus freak show featuring artists tumbling and partnering. Further developing the story was the comical transformation of the main girl into a sad, yet lovable dog.

The stagecraft involved in the work was stunning and brilliant. The dancers appeared mostly behind a screen, with only their shadows forming figures. Dancers layered and partnered, which allowed them to form remarkable and stunning shadow shapes, for which Pilobolus is famous. When the dancers emerged from behind the curtain, most notably during the Circus Freak show scene, the theatricality of the dancers, in particular Heather Jeane Favretto (dog girl and main character), made the show believable and entertaining.

The remarkable quality of the Pilobolus dancers is that they can fulfill dual roles as both storytellers and athletic dancers. They can partner with astonishing ease into the most contorted yet beautiful shapes, while also never breaking character. In a world of contemporary dance where many productions present abstract concepts with blank faced dancers, Pilobolus serves to remind us that concept and movement can and should belong together.

Photo Credit: Ian Douglas