Pilobolus’ Program B at the Joyce Theater offered five works, one from the first decade of the company’s existence and four more recent ones. The oldest piece fared best, with the strongest narrative and best integration of Pilobolus-esque gravity-defying lifts with movement; the newer pieces most often resorted to fancy props, cheesy facial expressions and impressive but gimmicky lifts.

Pilobolus, Licks with Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern, Benjamin Coalter, Jordan Kriston, Nile Russell, Eriko © Grant Halverson
Pilobolus, Licks with Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern, Benjamin Coalter, Jordan Kriston, Nile Russell, Eriko
© Grant Halverson

My favorite part of the evening was actually the prelude to the performance: as audience members filed into the Joyce, they were able to glimpse the entire company warming up on stage. I loved getting the chance to see the performers’ playful and encouraging interactions with each other, and it was interesting to note the somewhat unorthodox but necessary warm-ups of the individuals. (Veteran Matt Del Rosario did several pushups while in a handstand.) I could’ve done without the opening video projection, though: a mix of bacteria images and anatomical scenes, which came across as cloying. I could’ve done without all of the short films shown on the projector, frankly, though I understood that they were in place to entertain the audience during lengthy set changes between pieces.

Molly’s Not Dead, the opening piece from 1978, was a humorous romp for the brightly-colored, unitard-clad group. Much of the piece was performed with one dancer holding another by the torso in a tightly compacted upside-down ball, as the standing dancer rested his head on the behind of the upside-down dancer. The partnering was inventive without being ostentatious, and an easy narrative developed – a bit of a good-natured competition between these hybrid apple-torsoed double-dancers, and a subtle panting after the teasing females. Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern and Benjamin Coalter have the best mastery of facial expression: they can elicit a chuckle without overdoing it.

The next piece, Skyscrapers, was a short bit of showy fluff. As a scrolling background changed colors and city-esque scenes, the dancers raced on in pairs to strut across the stage in costumes matching the color of the current background. (I would’ve liked to have been backstage during that piece; I can only imagine that it is a nicely chaotic flurry of clothing and limbs.) Thankfully, the piece was short – its gimmicky presence grew stale almost immediately. I felt as if I were being pandered to, that the piece was created simply to elicit gasps from surprised audience members at the sudden marriage of trick costumes and backgrounds.

The third piece, Azimuth, was a dismissable circus-y piece, with the sort of tricks (with balls, hoops, and curved yokes) that must be more difficult to perform than it appeared, as I was rarely impressed. Symbiosis, the 2001 duet performed by Eriko Jimbo and Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern, fared better. Moving as if they were creatures recently dropped onto an unknown planet, with only each other for comfort, the dancers were so assured in their twisty, curling partnerings that they seemed almost liquid at times.

Most disappointing was the final piece, Licks, a New York première. Cheesy to the point of offense, this piece featured thick ropes that the dancers swung around, whipped, sliced, and occasionally used to manipulate each other’s bodies. The dancers wore sunglasses; I was unsure whether this was an aesthetic choice or to prevent their eyes from getting stung from the ropes accidentally. I suppose the most interesting part of this piece was the spatial patterns – it must’ve taken careful thought to prevent the dancers from changing positions and formations, while exercising ropes, without smacking each other. The few movement phrases were lewd – many a pelvis was thrust – and with few exceptions, the dancers’ choice of facial expressions occasionally made me uncomfortable. These dancers are clearly talented individuals who have honed their bodies meticulously to be capable of superhuman feats, and I was overall disappointed that they were rarely used as they deserved.