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A high five for Pilobolus Dance Theater


Pilobolus Dance Theater again showed why it has drawn standing-room-only audiences for more than 20 years while performing at Wilde Lake High School at Riverhill as part of the Columbia Festival of the Arts.

The New England-based company's Friday night concert was sold out, and the resounding applause proved that these five talented dancers had something for everyone on their program of five works.

Opening the evening was "Quatrejeux," a young-as-spring romp with dancers Rebecca Anderson, Adam Battelstein, Rebecca Jung and Darryl Thomas. The dance began with two couples igniting candles -- one candle on the floor, another suspended mid-air -- before the foursome frolicked and danced with impetuous enthusiasm. Images of children's games tumbled across the stage. A potpourri of Gallic mannerisms imbued the dance with a unique French accent in the quick glimpse of a minuet, the ritual of cheek-to-cheek kisses, or a manly bow over an extended hand.

While all five works on the program sparkled with the amazing physical prowess that is a hallmark of this company, "Shizen," a duet for Ms. Jung and John-Mario Sevilla, was the dance that brought audible sighs of "Cool" and "Wow" from the crowd. Choreographed in 1978 by founders Alison Chase and Moses Pendleton, this "Shizen" is vintage Pilobolus.

Danced to the haunting solo flute of Riley Lee, the dance began slowly with two crouching figures as silent as rocks in a Zen garden. Almost imperceptibly, they move, transforming themselves into sculpture, landscape features and such creatures as insects and jellyfish, creating visual illusions with their marvelous physical stunts.

The humorous side of Pilobolus was evident with Mr. Battelstein's exceptional performance in his excerpted solo from "Empty Suitor." As he precariously skims across several long tubes and entangles himself in a wooden bench, Mr. Battelstein becomes the quintessential clown, a buffoon who is both charming and alarmingly oafish, to the delight of the young at heart.

"Men's Duet," performed by Mr. Battelstein and Mr. Sevilla, was remarkable not only in the physical feat of the duo, but in its symbolic undercurrents. Here, primitive and civilized personas struggle for dominance, each wanting a piece of each other, until Mr. Battelstein and Mr. Sevilla reach an inevitable impasse.

The closing work, "Sweet Purgatory," set to the lush and somewhat overblown score of Dmitri Shostakovich's "Chamber Symphony, Opus 110A," has the five dancers miraculously suspended in time and space, yet ever-changing as their movements flash before our eyes. When four dancers are crouched on the floor, and one bounds in from the wings, they react like a pool being hit with a stone, with ripples of movement.

While its pieces vary -- "Sweet Purgatory" has more dance than earlier Pilobolus works -- the group's combination of kinetic and physical capabilities, mingled with complicated feats of coordination and a strong undercurrent of symbolism, inspires awe and keeps audiences coming back.

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