Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Teo Spencer

PILOBOLUS : Rules @ Play– Beguiling


Art lives on constraint and dies from freedom – Leonardo da Vinci

Developed by Pilobolus Artistic Director Matt Kent, this thoroughly entertaining presentation shows how rules can work for, and not against you. The company uses them to create. Parameters might be a less negative word, but to kids who live restricted by authority, rules seem unreasonable, bad.  The audience at this Interactive Family Matinee learns how rules might serve.

As a group of six young performers warm up, Kent and another company member run up and down the aisles while we obediently make waves, raising and lowering our arms. (Adults and kids alike willingly participate.) Our “energy” finally blows those onstage backwards, head-over-heels. After this, Kent divides us into three sections whereupon we chant either “PIL,” “OBO,” or “LUS” with varying volume and increasing speed. This evokes the first wave of serious giggles.


“Rules,” our host begins, “can be the key to freedom of expression. An author was bet he couldn’t write a book using only 50 words. He did it and it was very successful. The book used words like ‘boat,’ ‘goat,’ ‘fox,’ ‘box,’ ‘ham,’ and ‘am.’ If you know the title, call it out.” Green Eggs and Ham! (a popular Dr. Seuss book) much of the audience shouts.

“When this company started there were no dancers. How do you make a dance with no dancers? You start by doing things that people do, but making them larger than life. We call that Pilobolizing.” The first example of every day activity is hugging, ebulliently displayed in every conceivable manner with all kinds of facial expressions.


A more elaborate demonstration arrives with an excerpt from 1971’s Walklyndon. Company members walk back and forth across the stage interacting or widely avoiding one another. Bodies bump into and careen off bodies, freeze and rewind. Passing feet somehow get entangled. Dancers jump onto, fall off of, lift and carry each other upside down and sideways. They move backwards, leap, scurry, and lope. When two become joined, one bites his way apart. Next we see four dancers cross the stage each holding the satin boxers of the preceding person in his teeth. A foot gets stuck to the floor. People fall and are literally walked upon (the kids love this.) It’s completely captivating.

Kent asks for volunteers and about 15 kids from the ages of three to 11 go onstage for firsthand experience. Divided into three groups, participants are respectively told one. To keep low, two. To connect with each other and spin, or three. To keep one person always off the ground. With the help of the professionals, this is handily and happily accomplished.

An excerpt from 1973’s Pseudopodia “a dance with the self imposed rule of moving from one place to another without placing both feet on the ground” and one from 1990’s Particle Zoo “we took a guy and dropped him into a structure (group) where he doesn’t understand the rules to see whether he would learn them” are vividly manifest.

The highlight of this afternoon is a portion of 2009’s Transformation from the eventual, full length Shadowlands  successfully presented at NYU’s Skirball Center last year. Observing the counter intuitive rules of shadows is much like passing through Alice’s Looking Glass. A company member smiles before us. “Is she happy or sad?” Now she steps behind a screen. We can no longer see her face. She has to show her mood with movement.

In life, if someone moves towards you, she’s bigger, if away, then smaller. Just the opposite applies in the world of shadows. We watch the figure behind the screen grow smaller as she advances, larger as she retreats. An enormous arm and hand reaches from the top left of the screen. It tickles her, pats her head. Gradually the whole figure to which it’s attached comes into view as normally sized, then grows again and seems to take flight.


As if these illusions were not enough to fascinate, the godly hand molds the girl like clay. She morphs into a dog with distinctive snout, ears, tail and moving tongue. Seconds later, the performer walks from behind the screen looking just as she did when she first came on stage. There are no attachments used to create the deception.

At the end of the show, Kent opens the floor to questions. “How did you guys become so flexible?” ‘How many years till a new piece is ready?” and “Why was Pilobolus made?” are a few that are asked.

Charles Reinhart, Director of The American Dance Festival for 43 years and today in the audience, describes the origin of Pilobolus: “In 1971, four guys at Dartmouth were looking for a class where they didn’t have to write a paper or take an exam…they found a movement workshop lead by a girl named Alison. None of them were dancers.” Reinhart quotes critic Anna Kisselgoff’s comment upon the company’s debut, “I’m not sure it’s dance, but it sure is interesting.” Each company member then briefly introduces him/herself.

This is a flat out terrific program. I encourage educators and bookers alike to check out its availability, parents to explore workshops, and everyone to attend ‘regular’ performances of this extraordinary troop.

Pilobolus is named after a phototropic fungus that one founding member’s father was studying in a lab at the time of the company’s inception. The fungus grows with extraordinary strength, speed and accuracy.

Walklyndon (Choreography by Robby Barnett, Lee Harris, Moses Pendleton, Jonathan Wolken.)

Pseudopodia (Choreography by Jonathan Wolken)

Particle Zoo (Choreography by Robby Barnett, Michael Tracy and Jonathan Wolken in collaboration with Jack Arnold, Adam Battlestein, Kent Lindemer, and John-Mario Sevilla)

Transformation (Created by Steven Banks, Robby Barnett, Renee Jaworski, Matt Kent, Itmar Kubovy, and Michael Tracy in collaboration with Mark Fucik and Molly Gawler)

Photos Courtesy of Pilobolus

92Y Harkness Dance Festival presents
PILOBOLUS Interactive Family Matinee
Created by Matt Kent
Performed by Nate Buchsbaum, Matt Del Rosario, Sayer Mansfield, Manelich Minniefee, Teo Spencer, Eriko Jimbo
92nd St and Lexington Avenue