November 29, 2015
Shadowland is a natural concept for Pilobolus, whose founders originally met as pre-med students at Dartmouth College and won their niche in the dance world by playing off their mutual interest in biology. Over the decades, this clever company became as much interested in assembly furniture as science as they joined bodies to create amusing shapes and illusions. The company describes this process as “a weight-sharing approach to partnering.” Aside from the shadow puppet traditions of the Far East, what other dance company has taken on light with such glee and showbiz savvy? On the other hand, what dance company has not succumbed to the realm of dreams?
The run at NYU Skirball marks the North American premiere of this production, after several years of touring it throughout Europe and Asia. The show’s strength lies in the charms and malleability of shadows, Pilobolus’ torrent of ideas, most winningly with their play on framing and perspectives. Certainly, in every culture, children play with shadow animals that they create with their hands, and probably every adult has dreamt at some point of something unmentionable appearing and disappearing.
Heather Jeane Favretto, who joined Pilobolus in 2010 to work on their musical adaptation of James and The Giant Beach, plays the lead, a young girl who says goodnight to her parents and goes to sleep on a mattress comprised of the backs of four dancers, soon to slip into her dream life as a shaggy dog. Once behind a screen, she transforms herself by cupping one arm around her chin to create a snout, leaving her fingers to be her twitching ears.
Advertised as “a mix of shadow theater, dance, circus, and concert, incorporating multiple moving screens of different sizes and shapes to create a performance that merges projected images with front-of-screen choreography,” Shadowland takes a dive whenever the magic is suspended in favor of production transparency. The front of screen choreography consists mainly of the shadow makers appearing as tumblers dressed in underwear or, briefly, nothing. The lead dreamer, who seems pre-pubescent at the start of the show, quickly ages in the course of her dream to engage in tacky, kinky adventures.
The concert element shines through David Poe’s composition, which has commercial polish. Neil Peter Jampolis, who has been designing for Pilobolus since 1975, is clearly the star of this show!
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY --Deirdre Towers