Pilobolus Dance Theatre is all grown up. It’s certainly not stale, but it’s learned to play really well with others.
Formed in 1971 as a contemporary men’s dancing quartet, Pilobolus made a name for itself with its unique form of partnering. Dancers seemingly fold into one another, entangled, balanced, shifting apart and back together. Description does it no justice.
While that innovative partnering is still a staple of the company, it has evolved and now often seeks collaboration from some unexpected quarters.
“We’ve invited a variety of people from different media, ranging from the American children’s book illustrator and writer Maurice Sendak, to puppet master Basil Twist, to Pulitzer Prize-winning comics guru Art Spiegelman, to head writer for… SpongeBob SquarePants,” says Robby Barnett, one of three artistic directors at Pilobolus.
These collaborations, along with more traditional pairings with outside choreographers, have produced unique dances that stray from the norm or, oddly enough, are a product of a commercialized mainstream.
About four years ago, Pilobolus created a car commercial for a client, which was done by projecting the dancers’ shadows onto a large screen. Over the course of four years, a few more commercial ventures followed, using the same format.
“So we’ve sort of had our R & D [research and development] paid for us over the last few years with people asking us to make shadows,” says Barnett. “A couple of times we thought, over the last few years, maybe we should try to do something for ourselves, maybe a little more artfully motivated.”
The motivation, and eventually a show, came through the company’s collaboration with Steve Banks, the head writer for SpongeBob. Shadowlands is currently touring internationally, but there will be a taste of the production at the Calgary performance.
“We found that we can make creative decisions and esthetic decisions with other people that are surprising and that teach us things about ourselves, and we’ve dedicated our adult lives to that,” says Barnett. “It appears, as we’ve gotten older, increasingly worthwhile. And as we have brought other people into our laboratory to play with us in this way, I think they have found, too, that it is a transforming experience.”
While at the Jubilee, audiences can expect to see Pilobolus classics in addition to newer projects. The vintage of the pieces ranges from the early ’70s to 2009 and covers the full story of Pilobolus’s growth.
It also helps that the dance company doesn’t shy away from exploring every facet of creativity, including the aforementioned commercial ventures.
“We have always merged business and art, since the time that we were college students. We felt that the business of the company was fun, it was esthetic, entertaining; it was artistic.”
“We just don’t distinguish between the two things. We like to think we approach our business in a creative fashion and our art soundly and responsibly.”
However, the heart of the company still beats to the rhythm of the work performed by the touring company. And at its core, the company is about maintaining not only the collaborations, but incorporating every element of individual experience into pushing creative envelopes.
“We certainly make an effort to be as curious about the world as we can and to stuff our heads with as much raw material as we can, and out of that you hope that there is some kind of stew that’s going on in the background that makes connections,” says Barnett. “That’s certainly proven to be the case over the years.”
“I certainly find the more I do outside of dance, the more I have to bring to my interest in dance. It’s sort of like cross-training I guess.”