Pilobolus graces a fresh new MAC stage (review)

It’s not a particularly desirable commute from the city, and public transit doesn’t really go there, but maybe that’s the point.

The newly renovated McAninch Arts Center (MAC) is located at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, and boasts a pretty beefy line-up of artists for its 2014 season. Ok, renovation is an understatement. The college put $69 Million into a major overhaul of the campus, the primary benefactor being the MAC. It really shows: the space is vibrant, clean, fashionable, and accessible. The chairs are comfy, the legroom is generous, and the site lines are lovely. There’s an art gallery for intermission entertainment, and comfortable gathering places in the lobby and front patio.

Looking around to see who goes to Glen Ellyn to see dance shows, I didn’t really fit in… perhaps because the MAC is not a destination unless you live in the area. Nonetheless, people came in droves to see Pilobolus, Pilobolus held nothing back, and the people loved every second of it. For me, more exciting than Pilobolus itself (though amazing) was the fact that a hoard of atypical contemporary dance patrons experienced it, unfiltered, and loved it.

Pilobolus in Automaton | Photo by Grant Halverson
Pilobolus in Automaton | Photo by Grant Halverson

Pilobolus has the uncanny ability to align itself with nearly every possible genre of dance. It is simultaneously acrobatics and artistry, circus arts and avant garde, dance for fun and dance with a purpose. There is nothing like Pilobolus; a consistent commitment to a unique style has afforded the company 43 years of success that is only growing. On this program presented Thursday at the MAC, we see how that singular style can manifest in a multitude of ways, each wildly different from the next. The audience responded strongly to the showier pieces such as [esc], a collaboration with Penn & Teller featuring updated versions of Houdini’s escape acts, and Licks, a high-energy romp that is part battle rope, part rodeo. I, however, was stuck by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Automaton. Less ceremony and tricks revealed the capacity of the Pilobolus dancers to just – well – dance. They begin in pedestrian clothes and white gloves, and halfway through the gloves come off (literally and figuratively). In an act of the ultimate selfie, three dancers, now half-way disrobed, are placed in front of mirrors watching themselves as they slowly retreat upstage. It’s the first of a series of compelling moments set to sweeping movie score music by Max Richter. The mirrors are drawn together toward center and the dancers engage in beautifully intimate duets exploring all possible pairings. As they do the mirrors give altered reflections, almost instructing us what we are allowed to see of these personal interactions. In a piece titled Automaton, I’ve never seen Pilobolus so exposed – so human.

Author: Lauren Warnecke

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter for NPR affiliate station WGLT and freelance arts and culture critic, primarily reviewing dance for the Chicago Tribune. Lauren enjoys cooking, cycling and attempting to grow things in her backyard. She lives in central Illinois.