DANCE REVIEW: American Dance Festival 2010, Part Four: Pilobolus / Martha Clarke and Alfred Uhry

(Author’s note:  Part One of this series can be found here.  Part Two can be found here.  Part Three can be found here.)

This company was the only one I knew by name when I arrived at the ADF, and the general consensus among my fellow students was that seeing this company perform is an exceptional experience that is not to be missed. At the Durham Performing Arts Center (which will be referred to in my other reviews simply as DPAC), Pilobolus performed a selection of five works over a period of two and a half hours, and for the most part I was enthralled completely. This company is famous for the incredible strength and flexibility of its dancers as well as its quirky, humorous choreography. A wonderful highlight of this performance was the beloved 1971 piece “Walklyndon”, in which dancers of the company, dressed in garish gym clothes and yellow unitards, walk across the stage, interacting with their fellow dancers by bumping into one another, setting off chain reactions of connections in comical ways. Another highlight was the 2010 piece “Hapless Hooligan in ‘Still Moving’ ”, which was a collaboration with Art Spiegelman that combined both animation and dancing. A large screen was placed on the stage behind which the dancers performed, with only their silhouettes visible to the audience (which is similar to the company’s performance at the 79th annual Academy Awards). On the front of the screen animated images appeared in front of them that provided setting and props that the shadows seemed to use. The story was of a character named “Hapless Hooligan” who fell in love with an unfaithful woman, whose infidelity led to her eventual demise. From time to time the screen was lifted and the dancers performed for the audience. This piece was unlike anything I had ever seen before, but this dance, at over forty minutes, dragged on a bit towards the end. In my opinion, the piece would have been more entertaining had its long length been trimmed. The other pieces, which included a world premiere, were all quite varied in style and setting, and the World Premiere of the night, “Contradance”, was notable for its sweet love story between two of its characters, lovely soft sunset lighting and a memorable bit in which the lovers mimed sitting in a boat while the other dancers provided the boat with their bodies and various props. Overall, this selection of works from the Pilobolus repertory was satisfying but ran a little too long to keep my interest for the entire time. Still, I encourage everyone who appreciates modern dance to see Pilobolus if the company comes to his or her area.

Martha Clarke and Alfred Uhry-“Angel Reapers” (work in progress)
This work, which centered around different aspects of the Shaker community and religious practices, was more like a musical theatre production than a dance piece. Performed at the Duke University theatre, this work combined spoken word interwoven with religious songs and dancing. The Shakers are known for their way of expressing their love of God through movement, and this production, which seemed complete despite it being unfinished, combined traditional Shaker movement with dialogue and hymns and intense drama. The most interesting aspect of this performance was the how the psychological evolution of the movement mirrored the storyline of the Shakers questioning their repressive ways- it started out ritualistic and minimal and became increasingly physical and joyous and passionate and frantic and explosive and tormented and pain-stricken, and I, as an audience member, was riveted. The main story involved the forbidden love and relationships between the male and female members of the community, and the acting was well done and powerful. The dancing was always going on, interconnecting the different storylines and signifying the omniscient presence of the Shaker community even in the more private instances of love. The work seemed to go on for a long time, although it was barely more than an hour. Despite the work being labeled incomplete, it seemed to me that the story was, in fact, complete and made me wonder what more could be added or taken away to be deemed “finished” by the creators.


  1. You can tell that you are a dancer from your reviews! I am glad you had the chance to experience this type of dance program because it has opened your eyes to so much more in the dance world! All of these reviews have been beautifully written and show your appreciation for the art. GREAT JOB!


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