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Wednesday, July 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 71.0° F  Fair
The Paper

DANCE

Flights of fancy
Momix indulges in pure invention

The troupe excels at dance theater fantasy.
The troupe excels at dance theater fantasy.
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For Momix's silver anniversary, artistic director Moses Pendleton put together a repertory retrospective, "The Best of Momix." This company's somewhat collectively choreographed works are fun and fabulously inventive. The downside is that they veer dangerously close to glitzy dance-tainment - personally, I prefer the shock and awe of pure dance, à la Balanchine's ballets or Alvin Ailey's gloriously funky, message-laden choreography. But I have high hopes for the set of Momix's greatest hits coming to the Overture Center on Oct. 13.

It's a departure from Pendleton's recent full-length tableaux, like Opus Cactus, which played here in '04. Pendleton says to create these long works he enters the world of nature and makes contact with other forms. It's an interesting concept, but Cactus, lacking any dark hints of impending environmental disaster, was an overdose of eye-candy.

This repertory show's packed with changes, so there's no time to tire of the theme. It's also a history lesson, with glimpses of the company's evolution from Pendleton's earlier oeuvre - dances that come closer to the bohemian madness of his early mentor, Alwin Nikolais.

Pendleton's first major dance company, Pilobolus, which he founded in '71, mixed Nikolais' amoebalike, shifting group improv techniques with gymnastics. A decade later Pendleton left to start Momix, mixing a pinch of Pilobolus, a peck of the wackier, costume-rich, often prop-driven Nikolais esthetic, smidges of Mumenschanz and more than a soupon of Cirque du Soleil.

Within this genre of dance theater fantasy, the "Best of Momix" bill looks sharp. "There's a lot to choose from after all these years," Pendleton says. "An evening like this has to have a musical curve - an arc of slow and faster pieces. And some performers do some works better than others, so the show depends on who's in the company at the time."

On tap for this tour is the company's early classic pas de deux "Skiva," stretching the limits of what two dancers, locked into skis, can do together. Also up is "E.C.," an even earlier, much-copied Momix group work for dancing shadows on a screen.;

"We're doing 'Orbit,' a virtuoso solo with a hula hoop, and - let's see, from Cactus, the very athletic men's trio with 10-foot poles," Pendleton says. "'Spawning,'" which we haven't done in a while, is set to Peter Gabriel's 'Mercy Street' - very effective music for this piece inspired by the sensual image of salmon moving upstream to lay eggs and expire."

"Spawning" should make an interesting contrast with the wind-up solo - an astounding feat of spinning - from Baseball, another full-length Momix work. "Fire Dance," set to "Zaar," from Gabriel's soundtrack for The Last Temptation of Christ, is clipped from Momix's ambiguously religious Passion. It's one of Pendleton's favorites.

"It's based on rhythm and gymnastics," he says. "The basic technique is putting an esthetic on the athletic. I thought it would be an appropriate dance to do to that piece of music. It's a work to ward off evil spirits."

These days, that's something we can all appreciate.

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