Momix’s Moses Pendleton on Botanica

Movement and illusion
By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  October 25, 2011

ON THE BRIGHT SIDE Pendleton offers a bit of positivism.

You may have seen Momix dancers on a Hanes or Target commercial during the Golden Globes last spring. Or you may have caught Opus Cactus when they came to Providence three years ago. But Momix debuted a new work, Botanica, in 2009 in New York, and they'll present that show on Saturday, October 29 at 8 pm at the Providence Performing Arts Center, sponsored by FirstWorks.

"We've done some pruning to make it leaner and more energetic," explained Momix artistic director Moses Pendleton, in a recent phone conversation from his studio in Washington, Connecticut.

"In this text/tweet generation, where everyone needs to change the subject after 140 characters," he continued, " I see theaters around the country compressing and tightening things. So we will have no intermission, and we have taken 40 minutes out of the whole experience."

With a minimal storyline, framed by the changing of the four seasons, Pendleton is confident that the "dynamic flow of the evening" will captivate and carry audience members along. Indeed, the lithe, athletic bodies of the 10 "movement illusionists" — Pendleton's term for his dancers — along with enchanting, almost mesmerizing props, create scenes and images that fill your eyes and your imagination.

Was that a centaur (or several) prancing onstage? Did that dinosaur swallow a human? Did that female dancer spin herself out of that swirling fog into her own whirling body? Does that male dancer have multiple hydra-like appendages?

"I've always had an interest in plants, animals, minerals, human bodies," explained Pendleton, "and that's just increased to where I spend what seems like 90 percent of my time in the garden — I'm passionate about growing marigolds and sunflowers."

That is particularly evident in a "marigold quintet," performed in bright orange tutus that gradually become long skirts and then carpets around the dancers. The vivid color attracts male "hornets," amping up the drama in this strange, surreal garden.

Other scenes have the dancers in black light, with portions of their green-lit limbs forming leaves, ducks, or disconnected parts of a human; or a man, holding what looks like a large silk fan, who could be "an atom bomb and a tulip at the same time," said Pendleton. And yet another image: a woman in a bead skirt that spins near her head as if she were a cobweb with sunlight falling on it. One of the most challenging sections of Botanica is that with the centaurs.

"Being the ass end of a centaur is the way the new dancers get hazed," Pendleton quipped. "I try to get them to look at the video to see that it's a good image. They have to understand that they are not just dancers but actors. If they are playing rocks, we don't want to see a man in a rock suit, we want to see a rock."

Pendleton was so intent on the centaurs' training that he put the dancers through a kind of dressage, asking them to walk, canter, or trot. He's been working on a new piece with sheep in it, picturing certain dancers he believes are "good on all fours."

"In the proper woolens," he noted, in all seriousness, "they would be very goat-like or sheep-like."

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