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November 6, 2007

Bend it like Pilobolus: Popular dance company partners with Israeli choreographers for Louisville performance

Today, Pilobolus nestles neatly with corporate culture while traversing the country — and making a stop in Louisville on Saturday — to present shows that are promoted as edgy and hip.Earlier this year, the dance company catapulted itself high into American popular culture through appearances in a Hyundai television commercial, on the 79th Academy Awards and on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” This mass-culture celebrity seems a long way from the company’s origin in a Dartmouth University dance class in 1971.But much more than marketing has been at work to bring Pilobolus (named after a fungus that grows in manure) this recent recognition: It has come from the bold athleticism and energy the company has generated in its repertoire, which it plays up with striking sets and costumes. The sum makes its work reminiscent of a Kandinsky painting in motion.Most audiences know what they are getting when they go see a Pilobolus performance — choreography that incorporates athletic prowess and theatrical flair, redolent of vaudeville. The company’s daredevil feats frequently leave audiences gasping and applauding.Most of the pieces on the program for Saturday’s performance will do just that, including “B’Zyrk” (2007), “Pseudopodia” (1973) and “Megawatt” (2004). These three have been featured on the company’s schedule since it began its current touring schedule this summer.But tucked into the program is the company’s debut of “Rushes,” a collaboration between Pilobolus co-founder Robby Barnett and choreographers Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak, who established The Inbal Pinto Dance Company in Israel. (Check out this company’s work at www.inbalpinto.com.)“Rushes,” which I saw in June at its world premiere at the American Dance Festival, reveals a captivating world. Here the dancers speak in alluring physical phrasings, and intrigue plays on a shadowy stage with small white chairs. It includes a film by Peter Sluszka. Moreover, it interweaves Pilobolus’ athletic spirit with the Israeli choreographers’ theatrical propensity in a dungeon-like environment. A collage of sound — the drip-drip-drip of water, the bleating of sheep and the buzzing of a fly — echoes before giving way to a fluid score with work by Edie Sauter, Miles Davis, John Blow, the Dukes of Dixieland and Arvo Pärt.This kind of work stands out in a modern world of in-your-face marketing and politics. It is unhurried while hinting of restlessness, a welcome departure from much of the frantic qualities that pervade our lives and bleed into art these days. It allows for questioning. It allows for reflection.And, hopefully, it, as well as other works by Pilobolus, will prompt Louisville audiences to seek out and consider the breadth of dance today, whether it is that presented in other touring performances brought to us by the Kentucky Center, in pieces staged by the Louisville Ballet or those created by contemporary choreographers from the region who showcase their work with the locally based Moving Collective. PilobolusSaturday, Nov. 10Brown Theatre315 W. Broadway584-7777www.kentuckycenter.org$20-$28; 8 p.m.