A blank screen, illuminated by bright white light descended onto the dark stage. A cheerful tune kicked in as black and white footage rolled, cutting between an X-ray of a skeleton chewing, an unidentifiable insect skittering its many feet, and an amoeba-like organism writhing in a Petri dish. Moments later, the stage went dark. A man slowly entered, the dead weight of another body slung over his shoulder. He set the body down on a low, circular platform, and then sinuously somersaulted backwards offstage, receding into the darkness. Alone, the body languorously stood, his bare skin illuminated, almost glowing, under the white lights. Eventually joined by the first man and a woman, the trio engaged in alternately sinister, erotic, and coy movements, their statuesque bodies melding together, forming serpentine patterns that recalled the amoebas of the previous footage.
Fast-forward 30 minutes, and this trio, joined by three others, reappeared on a stage strewn with neon rubber duckies, a bicycle, and a birthday cake. The dancers flocked the stage like birds, party hats positioned over their faces like beaks. A man rode in on a tiny tricycle, casually tasting the icing off of the cake as he rolled past. These surreal moments suggest only a fragment of the eccentric offerings provided by Pilobolus, a company known for its unique blend of acrobatic feats, lyricism, and self-referential wit. Featuring a small company of six dancers (one of whom, Derion Loman, is a graduate of UCSB’s own dance department), Tuesday night’s program was a diverse visual spectrum of movement pieces intercut with quirky video segments, each drastically different from the one before.
One of the evening’s more light-hearted pieces showcased a collaborative effort between Pilobolus and OK Go, a band perhaps best known for their 2009 viral music video featuring a highly choreographed treadmill routine. Dancers’ movements atop a clear platform were captured by a video camera below and then projected onstage. The result is a simple yet astonishing illusion, as dancers appear to be suspended in the air, sliding, or falling through space, all while grinning into the camera. By using optical illusions, strategic props, and the seamless intertwining of multiple bodies, Pilobolus achieved a constant disorienting effect that left viewers wondering if the dancers truly were defying gravity. Of course, this effect is impossible without the incredible blend of athleticism and elasticity required of Pilobolus’ dancers, with their effortless lifts and inhuman bends. The company’s ability to straddle the line between the comedic, the absurd, and the stunning is what makes Pilobolus the phenomenon it is. And on Monday, they presented Santa Barbara viewers with an innovative and captivating visual feast.