Desert landscape will come to life through dance

Revisiting “Opus Cactus” after a 10-year lull
MOMIX performs Friday night at The Egg.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
MOMIX performs Friday night at The Egg.

After an absence of more than two decades, MOMIX returns to The Egg tomorrow, Friday, with a revised evening-long production of one of its most iconic dances, “Opus Cactus.”

“It started as a 20-minute piece in 2001 that I did for Ballet Arizona,” said Moses Pendleton, the founder and artistic director of MOMIX. “I had visited Arizona and was struck by the desert’s mystery and the magic of the giant cactus and especially of how they looked in the half light. I decided that should be the theme.”

Once he’d taken a lot of pictures — he’s a passionate photographer of nature pictures, he said, he worked with five women and five men to bring the desert landscape to life. Pendleton melds dance, props, film, lighting, costumes, even wires and ropes to create imagery and vibrant illusions. Huge cacti emerge even as mammoth lizards slither by. Dancers work in a style that includes acrobatics, gymnastics, mime, and contemporary moves.

Music and some spoken word from twenty different pieces, including New Age, Native American, Arabic and Australian aboriginal sources support all of this. 

“The piece is one of surprises,” he said. “There are 18 segments and with light effects, skateboards, ropes and sticks it gives new meaning to locomotion.”

Pendleton got his start almost fifty years ago in 1971 when he co-founded the Pilobolus Dance Theatre. (This company still exists and was at The Egg in March, 2017.)  One of the solo dances he created and performed in 1978 was called Momix, which is the name for a milk supplement for calves.
“I’m from Vermont and grew up on a dairy farm and did some downhill ski racing,” Pendleton said. “The dance was done to rap music and was a big hit.”

The name was also a play on words: Mo, a shortened version of Moses, and mix, as in a collection of ideas or moves.  When he decided to form his own company in 1980 — “You must follow your passion no matter what” — the name seemed ideal. Over the years, the letters all became capitalized.

By then, Pendleton and his company had become known for inventiveness and dances of great theatricality. They’ve worked internationally in film, television (Hanes and Target ads among others), with orchestras, and with other dance companies. And he’s choreographed two Winter Olympics: the 1980 closing ceremony in Lake Placid and the 2014 opening ceremony in Sochi, Russia.

After 47 years, Pendleton continues to look for inspiration. He seems to live with headphones on listening to music, he said, and he takes a lot of nature walks always armed with his camera.

“It’s like a good soufflé,” he said. “You never know when you’ll be attracted by an idea. It’s all part of the mix.”

His dancers, too, inspire. They are all more well-trained than in previous years, he said, and they are very athletic and capable to handle his choreography, which tends to be physically challenging.

“They must also have an inter-musicality and be able to laugh at the director’s jokes,” Pendleton said with a laugh. “Once a dance is premiered it is only the beginning. You continue to work on details. I’m a visual artist, so we use a lot of video tape. It’s a physical process to take an idea and build an image to make it a dance.”

That’s why revisiting “Opus Cactus” after a 10-year lull allowed him to give it a fresh energy, a new look, and some added surprises.

“It’s like seeing it again from afar,” he said.

 

MOMIX

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, March 16
WHERE: The Egg
HOW MUCH: $38
MORE INFO:  518 473 1845; www.theegg.org

Categories: Entertainment

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