Guest blogger Danielle Marie Georgiou is a Dance Lecturer at the University of Texas at Arlington where she serves as the Assistant Director of the UT Arlington’s Dance Ensemble. She is also a member of Muscle Memory Dance Theatre – a modern dance collective. Danielle is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Arts and Humanities at UT Dallas, and her first book, The Politics of State Public Arts Funding, is out now.
NEW YORK – Last weekend, I packed my bags and headed to Broadway! I had the opportunity to see many shows, including an uninspired yet still enjoyable revival of Guys and Dolls (what was missing was that hot and sexy chemistry so beautifully written into the script), In The Heights (an uproarious urban experience that would be perfect for a Dallas audience) and a delightfully disturbing performance of Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms (if you are looking for chills, thrills and sex, get under the elms). And on Sunday night, I went to see MOMIX‘s latest creation, Botanica – beautifully simple, yet complex and supremely organic.
Moses Pendelton, the group’s artistic director and choreographer, has said, “I have a strong interest in birds, bees and the secret of trees.” And in the new show, he has invited us all into his idea of the current state of nature. From the poems included in the playbill to the transcending tribal quality of the preshow music to the infusion of live video captures, LEDs, unique costumes, props and puppets, nature completely envelopes the audience, seducing and leaving you enlightened and electrified. Instead of the usual display of nature as just a beautiful idea consisting of four seasons that just exist to exist, Pendelton’s seasons each have their own climax, and it’s not always pretty.
Spring descends upon the barren landscape as “worm[s] turn[ed] night crawls into a Sea of Green Spring Pools…[and] Marigold bloom[ed].” That’s how Pedelton describes the scene in a poem included in the program, and, my, how those marigolds bloom. Outfitted in what seemed to be the fullest tutus known to man, a quintet of female dancers slowly bloomed from baby pink and orange buds to graceful flowers stretching up toward the sun in a never-ending circular motion. As the dancers soutenu-ed again and again, their tutus slowly became longer dresses that hit above the knee, then to their mid-calf, then all the way to the floor. Built in a tube-like fashion, the dancers seamlessly disrobed themselves to reveal the full costume that was so perfectly reminiscent of a blooming flower.
But just as we were enjoying the rites of spring, a summer storm hit with no warning. As the winds howled and the thunder cracked and the lightening blinded, the dancers undulated to the tempo of the storm. Here, Pendelton’s implementation of media is at its best. Using live video capture, the dancers simultaneously perform on stage and through a projected image on to the screen behind them, creating a kind of twisted kaleidoscope effect that reflects the tension during a storm. That idea is progressed further through the use of giant white flags manipulated by two male dancers. The flags create a visual and auditory effect: the whiteness reflects the images projected on the screen and the sound of them being waved creates the effect of wind.
Just as quickly as the summer storm hit, fall flew in on the wings of finches “leading the change of Indian Summer.” This last section illustrats what MOMIX does best: ensemble work that consists of intricate partnering, complex and athletic movement, and a wonderful use of props. Pendelton’s experience with Pilobolus — an internationally-renowned dance company known for its startling mix of humor and invention — is evident in the partnering work that centers on the concepts of push and pull and weight transfer. I spent the entire time during the falling leaves section trying to figure out how he pieced everything together. The dancers connected all the movement so seamlessly and effortlessly and so seductively. Who knew falling leaves were so sensual? Forget the heat of summer and the crispness of spring; bring on the coziness of fall please!
Though I heard some dispute about the choice of props for the fall leavings section — sets of identical tree branches in shades of gold and brown — I can see Pendelton’s intention. The homogeneity between the branches allows for a synchronicity between nature and the dancers. Though nature is indeed a very individualized concept, such competitive factors do not always translate well on stage and to dance. The actual movement is so intricate that having individualized tree branches would have been too competitive for the eye. The use of identical tree branches could also be interpreted as a commentary on the simplistic nature of the environment and its very growing maturation. And that goes for Botanica as a whole.
More than just an evening-length work exploring the four seasons, Botanica is a commentary on the state of nature today. Nature has existed before humans, before even the dinosaurs; yet, we have taken it for granted. We see its surface beauty; we see the brilliant colors of blooming flowers and the graceful dance of falling leaves. However, nature is eating us alive, like the Pinosaurus of winter, and is turning its back on us. MOMIX has set Botanica at a perfect time in our society when the environment is at the forefront of global politics. We are slowly become more aware of and responsible for our environment, and as this acknowledgement of the world around us spreads, so should performances of Botanica. Maybe it will make its way down to North Texas? And for more than just its socio-political statements, a local audience would delight in MOMIX’s use of media, puppets and abstract images fused with contemporary and classical movements. Plus, many dance students would benefit from taking a master class or two with MOMIX dancers. I know I was inspired, maybe you will be too.