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15 mai 2008

Momix performs at the Joyce Theater

Andrea Mohin/The New York Times ; Momix, from left, Danielle Arico, Yasmine Lee and Suzanne Lampl.

Dance Review

Leaping Puffballs, Floating Demons and Lots of Gyrating Whatsits

“Passion,” a 75-minute show presented by Momix, strikes me as sensationalist trash so brightly harmless that I wish I could fall in line with those who enjoy it as sheer sensation. Its main genre of movement is a lyrical, musical and theatrical arrangement of acrobatics. Its images evoke flora and fauna selected from various points in the Darwinian chain of evolution, and imaginary species too: centaurs, pushmi-pullyu, spinning puffballs with feet and more.

These are some of the illusions “Passion” offers, and I love illusion. As straight acrobatics, it gives us feats of strength, contortion, suppleness and elevation that are almost always impressive. We could argue about whether it qualifies as dance; only in a few moments does it employ any kind of rhythmic footwork, the criterion that has been a basis for dance in most cultures. But at several points its imagery recalls salient features of beloved works of American dance repertory, like Balanchine’s “Stravinsky Violin Concerto” (whose Aria I duet features acrobatic movement) and Paul Taylor’s “Cloven Kingdom” (whose four men keep reverting to a crouched, pounding, four-legged, bestial vocabulary).

Above all, Momix resembles — of course — Pilobolus, the company (still very active today) that in 1971 crystallized a genre whereby acrobatics were choreographed in terms of rhythm, phrasing, imagery and expressive coherence, creating a new kind of poetic theater. Moses Pendleton, who founded Momix in 1981 and remains its artistic director, was a founder of Pilobolus.

This resemblance to Pilobolus, however, is where my disappointment in Momix starts. “Passion” is only the second Momix production I have seen; the other was 16 years ago. They strike me as peas in a pod, but here’s hoping they are atypical of the Momix norm. The best Pilobolus works, with no loss of acrobatic wonder or pleasure as popular entertainment, are sustained flights of poetry and drama. But in “Passion” Momix stays pop, lightweight: an array of stuntlike short-term sketches, few of which go far beyond the initial wow factor.

Slick, too. The title “Passion” comes from Peter Gabriel’s score (taped), which was composed for Martin Scorsese’s film “The Last Temptation of Christ.” With a relentless ear for synthetic, cheap pastiche, this music ranges from rock rhythms to slow chanting. Meanwhile we watch the movement through one projection after another (a row of Buddha statues, a close-up of an Egyptian bas-relief , a Renaissance portrait) that add up not to a statement of generous cultural eclecticism, but to a strenuously pretentious effort to make “Passion” seem more serious than it is.

“Passion,” admittedly, often starts turning into a work of art. One nicely bawdy scene has a seated woman finding that the legs emerging from beneath her long skirt have a powerful life independent of her and are virile: the discovery is partly one of polite embarrassment, partly one of lascivious delight. Then this image flips over, and a naked man sits upright; now she becomes his lower body, and he’s in bliss.

Another episode has hooded medieval-religious figures suspended in midair but haunted by a near-naked satyr-devil who seems to embody the flesh they officially renounce. When two people are conjoined as one of the imaginary fauna, I react like Stephano in “The Tempest,” when he is trying to work out what this Caliban-Trinculo figure is: “Four legs and two voices — a most delicate monster!”

“Passion,” however, takes up such scenes only to toy with them idly, then drop them as if scalding its fingers. For all its efficient gloss, it lacks expressive courage.

Momix performs through June 8 at the Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue, at 19th Street, Chelsea; (212) 242-0800, “Passion” continues through May 25.

By ALASTAIR MACAULAY May 15, 2008 The New York Times

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