Pendleton’s ‘Passion’ entrances audience

Moses Pendleton’s “Passion” is unlike any of his other thematic creations. “Passion” is richer, deep
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Moses Pendleton’s “Passion” is unlike any of his other thematic creations. “Passion” is richer, deeper and soulful. Pendleton goes beyond his usual puttering, such as examining pop obsessions like baseball or the nature of nature, a favorite motif of his. The usual jokey Pendleton doesn’t even poke fun. In “Passion,” the master illusionist/choreographer seriously delves into the foibles of humankind, our hopes, fears, sins and our potential to rise to greatness.

“Passion,” staged Saturday night at Proctors, is as mysterious as its subject. It is pushed along by the haunting soundtrack, composed by Peter Gabriel, to the Martin Scorsese film “The Last Temptation of Christ.” Pendleton said the piece has nothing to do with the film — it is simply a trajectory from the terrestrial to the celestial. But the projected slide images and its accompanying episodic vignettes are heavy with references to Christ and the ancient world. And like the story of Christ, from his virgin birth to his resurrection, “Passion” is shrouded in mysticism.

The entire dance is performed behind a scrim. The action from behind is clouded by the slides: pictures of the face of a somber man, a sunflower, an Egyptian glyph, a tree. In black and white, these pictures distort what the audience sees, allowing the imagination to either run free or for the eye to question and refocus. The branches of a tree meld with the arms and legs of the dancers, an archway frames a face giving the impression of entering a vaulted cathedral, the stones of an ancient pyramid mottles the skin of a man who looks like Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man.

While Pendleton keeps much of the 21-part “Passion” oblique, a great part of it is blatant. In “Zaar,” for example, it is clear that a woman, leaping in and around a red ribbon, relishes her descent into a fiery stew. The crucifixion, in which a spinning man hangs from ropes, is also overt. After thrashing on and then falling from his perch, he lays on the floor. Three women (the three Marys?) kneel at his fallen body. They waver their hands over his torso and it rises. All this is clearly suggestive of Christ’s final days.

“Passion” is not pushing itself off as a passion play, however. For the nonbeliever, there is much to savor. The physicality of the five dancers is dazzling. All this, not to impress, but to transcend the physical boundaries and create illusions that are supernatural.

Even if the images of “Passion” elicited no emotions or fanciful musings, the show, with its haunting middle eastern tinged music, is entrancing.

Categories: Life and Arts

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