In 1971, three friends from Dartmouth College set about choreographing a movement piece inspired by the peculiar, super-flinging characteristics of a phototropic fungus named Pilobolus crystallinus. As athletes and scientists, Moses Pendleton, Jonathan Wolken, and Steve Johnson pulled from what they knew best, a keen understanding of dynamic movement and the physical properties of atypical organisms, to tackle their final project in Alison Becker Chase’s dance composition class. Too macho to ever consider themselves dancers, they wore blue jeans and approached their movement from what Pendleton described as “collaborative improvisation.” By the end of that spring, a dance company was born.
More than 45 years later, the troupe — known simply as Pilobolus — has morphed into a 15-member, category-defying exploration of physical artistry that trades in the careful methodology of classical dance for the raw and raucous antics of a flawed set of human beings. Using loss and fear as a jumping-off point, Pendleton sought to spin negativity “into golden air that you can breathe and [use to] give breath to others,” and that philosophy has come to define a company that has traveled across the globe to bring its infectious and humorous breed of somatic humanity to audiences in more than 65 countries.
On Sunday, January 28, 7 p.m., UCSB’s Arts &Lectures will once again commission the return of this series favorite with the debut of the company’s latest works titled Pilobolus Maximus: Beyond the Limits of Dance at The Granada Theatre (1214 State St.). Drawing from a well of old and new physical languages, Pilobolus Maximus paints an evolutionary tale of shape-shifting worlds that blend the dazzling techniques of acrobatic arts and commedia dell’arte with the modern prowess of contemporary dance. The results? A two-hour, whimsical tour de force of diversity and cooperation that underscores the limitless possibilities of bodies working in harmonious unison. On Saturday, January 27, Santa Barbarans will also be treated to a community master class where participants of all shapes and experiences can immerse themselves in the process and philosophy of this wholly unique and remarkably relatable dance company, a not-to-be-missed opportunity to indulge in the endearing hijinks of this American treasure.