Opus Cactus


Joyce Theater, New York

September 27, 2002

By Carter B. Horsley

Dancers are remarkable athletes and perhaps the most impressive over the past few decades have been the members of the Pilobolus Dance Theater and Momix troupes for their gymnastic virtuosity. Pilobolus was founded in 1971 and in the early 1980s Moses Pendleton, one of the founders of Pilobolus, broke away to found his own company, Momix, becoming its artistic director in 1984.

Both companies have reveled in circus-like performances of modern dance, rich in humor and punctuated by stunning athleticism.

"Opus Cactus" had its world premiere at the University of Arizona in 2001 and its first New York performance in 2001 at the Joyce Theater, the city's most delightful and intimate theater for dance after it was remodeled in Art Deco-style fashion after a long history as the Elgin movie theater on Eighth Avenue between 18th and 19th Streets.

"Opus Cactus" is a 19-part work with one 20-minute intermission. Thematically, it is an ambitious evocation of the Southwestern desert areas of the United States but its intent is not to tell a story but evoke images of its spaces, its animals, and its plants. Many of its parts need no such imagery and can stand as marvelous, abstract dance pieces.

It is a remarkable work because of its choreography, its splendid costumes by Phoebe Katzin, and the wonderful music drawn from a variety of very kindred sources such as "Largo" from the Harpsichord Concerto by J. S. Bach, "Winds of Warning" by Adam Plack, Johnny (White Ant) Soames, "The Dream" from "Spirit Dance" by Peter Buffet, "Desert Blooms" from "The Drop" by Brian Eno, TUU's "Mesh, Fathom/Hearts of Space," "Black Mesa" from "Ritual" by Gabrielle Roth and the Mirrors, "Ali Mullah" from "Rejoice/Rejoice" by Transglobal Underground, "The Lost City" from "Passion in the Desert" by Jose Nieto and Hemza Al-Din, "Pigs in Space" from "At the Edge" by Mickey Hart, "Outback Attack" from "Tunder Down Under: Tribal Drumming and Didgeridoo" by Brent Lewis and Peter Wood, "Toareg" from "Buddha Bar" by Le Duc, "Mountain Walk East" from "Nomad" by Nomad, "Prophecy Soung" from Orenda" by Joanne Shenandoah and Tom Wasinger, "Mother Tongue" from "The Serpent's Egg" by Dead Can Dance" and "First Contact" from "Pray, Market. & Manuf." by Douglas Spotted Eagle.

There were several standout performances, most notably the remarkable interactions of Kori Darling and Pi Keohavong with an eliplitcal, and rollable, gryoscopic, jungle gym sculture by Alan Boeding in which the dancers assumed flight in, on and through it and ended with them rolling it across the stage while prone with such precision that slightly curved sections came to rest directly above their heads. This section, entitled "Dream Catcher" is a sensational masterwork of modern dance that even outdoes Isamu Noguchi's abstract tree sculpture for Martha Graham.

"Desert Blooms" is another dazzling work in which glowing wire-frame globes contract and expand and bounce and flit across the darkened stage as in some super-tech, updated, "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" version of "Pong." For the very observant, the high-tech globes were manipulated by dancers covered in black.

Another fine work begins slowly with woman dancers sitting on the shoulders of male dancers and slowly perambulating across the stage but in such a manner that the figures represent four-armed cacti with extremely subtle movements.

"Tracking the Earth" is a fast-paced work with dancers lying on skateboards and zooming across the stage with wild abandon only to begin to interact with one another.

The finale includes a huge puppet with a large skull head and diaphonous wings who oversees a trio of dances who soar and spin on harnesses, sometimes hurling themselves beyond the stage and over the audience.

Many of the pieces begin simply, evolve into fine geometries, display ingenious positions and then, with great surprising effect, usually at the very end, became extremely animated, agitated and very, very much alive, a hint of the mysterious of life and birth and regeneration.

When the show was over the audience was yelling its wild appreciation and in the numerous curtain calls the dance troupe, which also consisted Danielle Arico, Anthony Heinl, Michael Holdsworth, Eric Jeffers, Kara Oculato, Cynthia Quinn, Penny Saunders, and Brian Simerson, applauded the audience, obviously proud of their thrilling performance and the thrilled audience.

Mr. Pendleteon was forn and raised on a dairy famr in Vermont and graduated from Dartmouth College in 1971 and immediately began touring with Pilobolus, which had grown out of dance classes at Dartmouth with Alison Chase. By the end the decade, according to the program notes, "Mr. Pendleteon had begun to work outside of Pilobolus, performing in and serving as principal choreographer in the Paris Opera's Integrale Erik Satie in 1979 and choreographing the Closing Ceremony of the Winter Olympics at Lake Placid in 1980.

Since founding Momix, Mr. Pendleton has worked on a wide variety of projects including muic videos for Prince, Julian Lennon and Cathey Dennis. He made a 3D film entitled Imagine for IMAX theaters in 1994 and is also a photographer.



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