New Again: Moses Pendleton

Yesterday, Moses Pendleton, a visionary choreographer whose work in dance spans over four decades, opened a revival of his Southwestern desert ballet Opus Cactus—which was originally conceived as a 20-minute performance for the Arizona Ballet in 2001—at New York City’s Joyce Theater. Pendleton, 68, first caught the world’s attention back in the early ’70s when he introduced acrobatics and abstract theater into contemporary dance, and has since become known for his kinetic sculptures. He’s created in the same experimental vein for venues such as the Paris Opera and Deutsch Oper Berlin, incorporating not only theater but also photography and film into his work—he even choreographed the closing ceremony at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid.

Before considering a visit to the Joyce to watch Opus Cactus—tumbleweeds, cactus wrens, and all—we revisit a preview of Pendleton’s Fantasy on a Variation on a Theme from our December 1989 issue, a show that was performed at the very theater he returned to last night. —Zuzanna Czemier

Moses’ Poses
By Otis Stuart

Dancer-choreographer Moses Pendleton has been a man of surprises since his debut in 1971 as one of the co-founders of Pilobolus, the six-member dance collective (named after a mushroom) that rethought dance away from steps and toward forms and images. Pilobolus’s idiosyncratic choreography was as acrobatic as it was liquid, cinematic in its speed and shifts, and capable of reshaping dancers into everything from giants to dwarves.

When Pendleton comes to New York’s Joyce Theater this month with Momix, the company he founded in 1980, he will continue in that tradition of the unexpected. Pendleton’s choreography is known for its snapshot impressionism–vivid, quicksilvery, elusive—but his new work, Fantasy on a Variation on a Theme, is thirty minutes long, in ten sections, and, unlikeliest of all, set against the solemnity of Benjamin Britten’s Variation on a Theme of Frank Bridge. 

The terms may be more serious, and the images, Pendleton says, “grander than people might expect,” but Fantasy is directly in the Pilobolus-Momix line of descent, beginning with its multidisciplinary layers: the dancers are seen behind projections of photographs so that “you see the dance through the pictures, like watching a movie with very high resolution.” The collage effect not only is vintage Pendleton but also shows the variety of pursuits that continue to feed his work. His photographs were the subject of a recent exhibit in Aspen, and of late he has adapted his choreography to screens of many sizes, including television (an award-winning ABC special), film (E.C., seen in David Byrne’s True Stories), and video (Prince’s “Batman”). The range, he says, “keeps you going. To sit still would be bizarre. You have to stay open, curious. I think getting older means finding out that you’ve done it—everything. I haven’t.”


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