Shaping up Southwest

by: ©2006 DON PURDUE, “Shape dancing” melds performers’ bodies into moving sculptures, and it’s how Momix presents its vision of the Southwest landscape.

For lovers of that rare and magical place where athleticism, illusion and the imagination converge, Portland is a good place to be, generally. For years, locals have had plentiful access to the fertile Imago Theatre and its two dazzling concoctions, 'Frogz' and 'Biglittlethings.'

This week, audiences will get a look at another reigning giant of the genre when the dance presenter White Bird brings Moses Pendleton's innovative Momix to Portland for the first time.

'They're very exciting,' Imago co-founder Carol Triffle says. 'I saw them in Paris, and by the end of the show the whole audience stood up and was dancing with them.'

Momix will perform a full-evening work called 'Opus Cactus' that harvests its varied vignettes from the landscape of the American Southwest. It is a world in which lizards, cacti and even inorganic objects come to life in eye-opening ways, inspiring The New York Times to call it 'a sprawling, luscious fantasy.'

The work was conceived after Pendleton was commissioned to create a short ballet for Phoenix's Ballet Arizona in 2001.

Pendleton, a Vermont native, was a competitive downhill skier in college when he broke his arm and then incorporated a dance class into his rehabilitation. In time, his fascination with the intersection of sport and dance led him to help found the pioneering, Connecticut-based Pilobolus Dance Theatre in 1971.

Triffle says the company pioneered something called 'shape dancing,' in which individual dancers disappeared into kinetic human sculptures, creating new images in space.

In 1981, Pendleton left the company to found Momix, which has gone on to international acclaim. The troupe rehearses in a barn on his property in rural Washington, Conn.

Pendleton, who has choreographed everything from music videos and film to opera, has also influenced the Portland dance scene in significant ways: Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland, co-artistic directors of BodyVox, are Pilobolus alumni; Jefferson Dancers boss Steve Gonzales danced with Momix for several years.

- Eric Bartels

'Opus Cactus'

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 25

Where: Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 S.W. Broadway, 503-245-1600, ext. 201

Cost: $19-$43; also available through Ticketmaster (503-790-2787), subject to service charges