BWW Interview: Itamar Kubovy Talks Pilobolus' SHADOWLAND

NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts will present the North American premiere of Shadowland, a groundbreaking theatrical experience by the internationally acclaimed Pilobolus Dance Theater, running for three weeks, from November 20 - December 6, 2015.

Pilobolus's Shadowland is an euphoric mix of shadow-theater, dance, circus, and rock concert. The surreal and gripping story of a girl's coming of age takes audiences on an eye-popping thrill ride, and features a world-premiere finale that plays tribute to New York City.

Itamar Kubovy, one of the creators of the show, spoke with Broadwayworld about how the magic of Shadowland is almost like "SpongeBob meets The Nutcracker."

How did the concept of Shadowland come about? When did you start working on it?

It all started in the summer of 2006 when we were asked by an advertising agency whether we could make a car commercial with no car in it, but many dancers. Pilobolus has always dappled in crazy physical dares, and we said yes, having no real idea whether it would work or not. Here's a link.

Shortly after that, we got a call from the producer Laura Ziskin, who was producing the Oscars and saw the commercial. She felt like it was a great representation of human imagination and creativity, and asked us to take part in the Academy Awards broadcast that year. And that obviously had a really big impact because it was watched the world over.

Following the Oscars, we continued to make and perform concert dance focused on classic repertory and our newest experiments. At the same time, we gathered a group of artists to begin to make small shadow projects all over the world. We were commissioned to create myriad short-form shadow plays and performed them for kings and queens, European opera audiences and rock and roll audiences; and in Asia and in the Middle East. The shadow fables were simple, but we learned a TON about shadows. We started to feel like we could put the shadows to work to create a passionate full-evening show.

What was the toughest part about putting together this piece?

The toughest part was the same as the funniest part. It turned out to be hard to transition between the live dance and the shadows and still keep a story moving forward. We needed to figure out how to control the shadows so that action and consequence were clear to the audience, in a way that allowed character intention to come through. In shadow you don't have facial details and without those details you need to use the rest of the body to express intention. So I think figuring out how to develop more than one performance style within the work, as well as balancing movement and storytelling in a way that was consistently engaging were the hardest part.

Where has it been performed?

The show has been performed in almost 30 countries, from the Middle East to most of Europe and to Asia, and it really has a kind of universal appeal. One of the things that is so exciting about the form is that it mirrors the way that Pilobolus has always worked, focusing on word-free, imagistic communication. It feels dreamlike, but is communicative enough to let you follow along in a story.

Is this dance, or theater or what?

It is a mix of all of these. It's dance; it's a concert; it's a theater piece. It marries parts of Pilobolus that have landed in each of those genres of live performance over the years, and is a really good example of something that straddles many genres. The truth is that we have been asked whether what we do is dance from the very first day we were doing it, and that has never stopped. The combining of bodies to make shadows is consistent with what Pilobolus has always been doing. So I would say, yes, it's a dance, but it also combines a lot of other forms.

Do you have a favorite moment in the piece?

The transformation, in which a very large hand changes a young woman into a dog, and then into a young woman with the head of a dog, quite magically. There is something at once poetic and gentle and also scary about that moment of change; I've always found that to be particularly effective. The other moment that I really love is really an amazing illusion, when a large projection screen, like a large curtain, descends downstage of a group of dancers who are standing still. Suddenly you realize that they have been positioned, although they are completely separate from one another on the stage, to form one huge, detailed shadow- elephant on the screen, which appears inexplicably. It's a moment where you understand that the language of shadows and the language of live movement have a completely different logic. It's simple and paradoxical at the same time.

What can audiences expect from this show?

It's a super exciting ride that gives you the feeling of being at a magic show. It also gives you the feeling of watching a beautiful fable, like The Nutcracker, but in a kind of pop, rock, humorous and comic world. It's almost like "SpongeBob meets The Nutcracker."

Tickets: Pilobolus will perform November 20 - December 6, 2016 (see complete schedule, below). Tickets are $30 - $70 and may be purchased online at, by phone at 212.998.4941, or in person at the NYU Skirball Center Box Office: Tuesday-Saturday, 12:00-6:00 P.M. The NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts is located at 566 LaGuardia Place at Washington Square, New York, New York 10012.

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