MOMIX presents abstract nature imagery through dance
By James Peng, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Tuesday, June 26, 2012
The illusionist dance company MOMIX’s opening act set the stage for an impressive performance that projected natural beauty in abstract forms. As ominous music pulsated in the background, human fists frantically stabbed upward from a white sheet undulating in the dim lighting. Punching the air above them, they appeared to be united in a desperate attempt to escape the white expanse.
The “Botanica” show, performing before a sold-out crowd in Moore Theater this weekend, aimed to recreate nature’s changing imagery. Combining illusionistic elements, classical dance and acrobatics, the company crafted scenes that embodied themes ranging from animalistic savagery to feathery gracefulness.
Among the most intense scenes was a dance between a triceratops skeleton and a primitively-dressed woman. The scene, which initially induced laughter from the audience, gradually intensified as the dinosaur chased its prey, eventually engulfing her in its ribs.
The show juxtaposed fast-paced, intense moments with slower, more elegant scenes. Gentler parts of the performance — including a scene that featured dancing marigolds, in which performers’ slender legs and green-painted faces popped out of billowing orange costumes to imitate the movement of the flowers in the wind — were almost immediately followed by scenes of pulsing movement and rhythmic passion.
“We used several tutus that were piled on top of each other to create a feeling or look of a marigold, and after we got the look of the marigold, we wanted to see if we could make a dance out of them in kind of a Disney-like idea,” MOMIX Director Moses Pendleton ’71 said in a discussion after the show.
“Botanica” also featured multiple instances of raw sensuality, as skin-colored costumes in several scenes made dancers appear nude. One scene featured pairs of these “naked” performers dancing against each other, personifying carnal desires.
It was not always apparent how these images were created, and the crowd was in awe of the visual effects produced by simple elements such as lighting, costumes and human movement.
“For some of the things that were going on, you really had to work hard to figure out what you were actually watching,” Upper Valley resident Judith Guertin said.
One of the most compelling —and confusing — acts of the show was a scene during which the stage was completely dark except for green lighting on dancers’ arms and legs. The dancers moved rhythmically to create naturalistic images of swans and vines, producing an illusionistic effect of displacing their limbs into seemingly unnatural and impossible positions.
“What we do in that scene is a shading technique like in drawing,” Pendleton said. “We erased some of the parts [of the body] and rearranged them.”
The music, an amalgam of nature sounds, New Age songs and rhythmic tribal tunes, effectively complemented the show’s various moods.
The serene chords of BlueTech’s “Cliff Diving,” for example, evoked a feeling of tranquility for one of the more lyrical dances, while the rhythmic vocals of Eastern Dub Tactik’s “Spark the Sound” built up intensity for a faster paced scene. Animal sounds, such as bird chirps and insect noises, underlined the ambience of a surreal, natural-looking environment.
“It’s like 32 pieces of music from different sources,” Pendleton said. “It took a long time to mix and match and put it together and make the bridges, but it seems kind of like one score.”
Although MOMIX attempted to create a cohesive picture of the unfolding of seasons, many of the scenes felt scattered and seemed unrelated. The scene with the animated triceratops skeleton and another depicting galloping centaurs seemed particularly misplaced.
However, as a whole, “Botanica” evoked fear, surprise, serenity and passion through an impressive combination of illusionistic confusion, aphrodisiacal imagery and well-choreographed movement. Its abstract depictions of nature were thought-provoking, profound and beautiful.
“I thought it was incredible — the depiction of nature, the lighting and sound altogether,” Karen Pacheco, who was visiting from Connecticut, said.
Founded in 1981, MOMIX has been featured in several commercials, television series and films. The dance troupe, which has performed on five continents, last performed in the Hopkins Center in 2003.
Hop programming director Margaret Lawrence said that the Hop has an “historic relationship” with the dance troupe and decided to bring MOMIX to campus because of the visual creativity and alternate reality the troupe brings to the stage.
“What I love about MOMIX is the kind of endless creativity that whatever Moses Pendleton’s mind can dream up, he finds a way to put it on stage,” Lawrence said.
Pendleton, who was an English major, said his obsession with nature influenced the creation of the dance troupe.
“Nature by nature is illusionistic, meaning it’s magical and if you look at it carefully, it starts changing and transforming,” he said.
This vision of nature is perfectly reflected in “Botanica” — it’s a trippy, magical and emotionally transformative illustration of the biological world.