Guest blogger Danielle Marie Georgiou is a dance lecturer at the University of Texas Arlington. She also serves as assistant director of UT Arlington’s Dance Ensemble.
A couple of weeks ago I spoke with Moses Pendleton, founder and artistic director of MOMIX. And this past weekend, I saw the group’s latest show, Botanica, at the Winspear Opera House.
This was my second time to enter the world of Botanica, and the show grew on me as I was able to look beyond its surface beauty and absorb its humor and poetic rhythm. Where else can you find centaurs doing the Electric Slide, a pas de deux with a giant rock man, and sunflowers galore?
Right from the start we are hit with a surrealist take on the frozen landscape of winter as the dancers push their way through a massive piece of white fabric that moves like an avalanche. As a trio of women emerges from the fold, a larger than life flowering tree (created by Michael Curry) appears, tempting the women with its dangling fruit. They are rushed off as night falls and three loons laugh in the darkness.
This section, completely performed in black light, manipulated space and time as the dancers, clad in black garments that were strategically removed to expose a second skin of reflective material, created snakes and swans with their appendages. The effect illustrates Pendleton’s sense of humor. It was completely unexpected and charming and appropriately placed after the trace-like opening. It also helped solidify the surreal environment being created, which grew as the tail end of winter approached and a lone woman is shown resting on a mirrored bed.
Reminiscent of the image of Gemini, the three-dimensional effect created by the mirrored platform allowed the piece to be viewed as a solo, a duet, and as the shadow of her body is reflected onto the wall, a trio. As she is delivered to the subsoil on the back of a grand skeletal triceratops puppet, the doors to Pendleton’s magical garden are thrown wide-open, allowing spring to descend upon the barren landscape. Outfitted in layers upon layers of tulle, a quintet of female dancers slowly bloomed from baby pink and orange buds to graceful marigolds stretching up toward the sun in a never-ending circular motion. As they continued to turn, their tutus slowly became longer dresses, then floor-length gowns, personifying the idea of a blooming flower.
The marigolds bring a quartet of hopping hornets onto the stage. The only section that was designed for male dancers, it was extremely percussive, grounded in its movement and powerful. It displayed the virtuosity of the dancers and their exquisite technique. Their appearance brought out the centaurs, which were created by pairs of dancers that were connect at the hips. Probably the most irreverent part of the evening, it was a hilarious moment of fantasy and a great way to end the first act.
While Act One explored the humor in nature, Act Two explored the relationship between mixed media, props and partnering. Pendleton and the dancers work closely together, studying the source photographs that Pendleton takes himself, to develop the characters and embody the physicality of the insects and plants he wants to re-create. A majority of the partnering that was featured came from improvisation exercises with the dancers. The dancers also work extensively with the props to figure out how to manipulate them. It is a MOMIXian idea that props become an extension of the body, and since each dancer uses the props in a different way, they improvise and set movement in rehearsals that work best on their bodies but also satisfy Pendleton’s ideas.
This idea was best shown as a summer storm approached. Complimented by a live video feed that manipulates the movement of the dancers (who were sliding and throwing themselves to the floor) and the use of oversized flags that cut through the air, the effect created is visually stimulating and disorienting. The flags create a visual and auditory effect: the whiteness reflects the images projected on the screen and the sound of them being waved creates the effect of wind.
Just as quickly as the storm hits, it disappears as a female dancer is walked into the woods on the shoulders of two men. Dressed as finches in intricately painted brown and cream unitards adored with feathers, this section was a display of the physical strength. Full of unique and inventive partnering and risky lifts that transitioned into off-balance moments of weight-sharing, one of the most exciting moments came when the female dancers fell sideways, perpendicular to the ground, with only one arm of their male partners to support them. Before she could reach the ground, she was instantly swept back up into another exciting lift.
Even after viewing this show twice, I’m ready to re-enter Botanica. Each time I notice the nuances of Pendleton’s work and his devotion to exploring themes that exist in our everyday life: nature, humor, beauty and sex. The dancers connect the movement seamlessly, effortlessly and seductively, and they push the limits of performance by committing themselves to their characters. Overall, it creates an extremely satisfying performance that is universal in its concept and its reach.