Peacock Theatre, London, UK; March 12, 2014
Pilobolus was founded in 1971 by dance students at Dartmouth College. They were physically more powerful than their peers and set out to make work making use of this facility. The strength required for these moves was underlined by one of the founders Moses Pendleton in an early solo where he slowly lifted himself forward one-handed over a walking stick. When I saw the same piece a decade later a new performer had to use two hands. Over the past 40 years, together with Momix, an independent off-shoot formed in 1980, Pilobolus has forged a niche bringing dance, gymnastics, visual illusion, imagination and humour to the fore. Some of the best fun in my early days of dance watching came from these two companies, so I will always have a soft spot for them.
The evening length “Shadowland” has enjoyed much international success in the four years since its birth. Unusually for Pilobolus, a narrative drives the work: a teenager still treated as a young girl by her parents falls asleep and her dreams form the bulk of the piece. She sees her shadow which assumes independence and then, like “Alice Through the Looking Glass”, the girl steps into Shadowland.
On two screens, the dozen dancers create a myriad of back projected shadow images ranging from castles to elephants to creepy crawlies to multi-armed entities. Early on there is a lot of fun in a kitchen with some cannibalistic cooks and our heroine’s narrow escape. Visited by the long arm of a deity, she is transformed into Dog Girl, the persona she assumes for most of the show. This shadow image is achieved with an elbow across the face with her hand making an ear. Lonely and ridiculed by those she meets, her wanderings provide the main story line. Escapades with a car driver and her ill treatment at the hands of a circus company are two of the many scenes along the way. Lauren Yalango as the Dog Girl was outstanding both in her movement quality and her characterisation.
Most of the action is through the use of shadows. here we see live dance, especially in a trio later in the show, the power and flowing movement of the dancers is a joy and I would have liked to see more of it. Shadows have always been a part of the Pilobolus and Momix opus and for me it works even better in small doses. Nevertheless, there is much to enjoy and admire in “Shadowland” and it’s good to see Pilobolus thriving. I hope to see them back in London before too long.