Wolken and friends Robby Barnett, Lee Harris and Moses Pendleton from Darmouth College in New Hampshire started the dance troupe in 1971. The four men had no formal dance training but used the emerging troupe as an experiment.
Bringing the unique dance troupe to Reno as part of a post-season performance for Artown, Pilobolus will perform at 8 p.m. on Friday at the Grand Sierra Resort.
“I started the company with a friend of mine and it’s been almost 40 years since we started this,” Wolken said.
Quick-witted, Wolken says asking why Pilobolus was formed and what time has changed about the troupe is a sure fire way to entrap someone into writing a book. So, he gives the short story instead.
“Things have changed enormously and completely, yet the core remains intact,” Wolken said. “We, ourselves, started as a four-man experiment, which was so long ago, we have added women to the company and we have changed our style. We still combine bodies in unusual, unexpected ways.”
The body and exploring the way it works seems to be an ongoing endeavor in the evolution of Pilobolus. Videos of select performances on the dance troupe’s Web site display the dancers’ abilities to transform a tangle of limbs, torsos and heads into something that moves and flows to create art.
“Day 2” pairs Pilobolus’ ability to emote and create with the Talking Heads “House in Motion.” The performance opens with dancers popping up and down to form a line as individuals, but as the performance advances the dancers come together and flow apart and are even used in groups to create athletic movements and lifts.
Sticking with a hard rock beat, other movements from Pilobolus’ repertoire include “Megawatt,” which Wolken said is part of this tour’s program, along with Lanterna Magica, Pseudopodia, Walklyndon and Gnomen.
“Megawatt” opens with the song “Here Comes the Bastards” by Primus as the dancers slither across the stage in a stiffened manner. As the music changes to “The Gloaming” by Radiohead, all but two dancers have become stagnant, jerking and moving in a manner that suggests the need to be free from the spot in which they are suck. The two dancers move gracefully like a prima ballerina: legs lift, twirl, spin, caught. The dancer is grabbed by a stagnant dancer, allowing the stagnant dancer to move. The performance of “Megawatt” ends in a display of athleticism with flips and movements reminiscent of a break dancer’s choreography.
Wolken said the performances are interpretive but Pilobolus aims to be one thing: evocative.
“It’s up to those who see it to know what it means to you,” Wolken said. “We don’t really define ourselves and that’s really OK.”
Wolken said Pilobolus differs from other dance companies who have dancers rehearse steps and movements choreographed by someone else.
“We don’t deal with steps; we deal with movement,” Wolken said. “It is really difficult because it is not as if what we do is a single style. What we do is really inventive. We combine elements of invention and create a new vocabulary for each piece.”
To describe Pilobolus the best he could, Wolen said the troupe’s imagery is laden with things that please and engage the eye. That, he said, is Pilobolus’ style.
“People cannot dismiss it,” Wolken said. “I think this is a different kind of dance all together. I think people would be happy with what they see. It is wonderfully inventive. It has a sense of humor about it.”
Although Pilobolus adheres to rules all its own, Wolken said it is not about breaking the conventional rules of dance but playing with them. In doing so, the dance troupe hopes to create a balance that makes the audience happy with its performance.
“It’s kind of like a kitchen and you have to ask, ‘What’s cooking?’ ” Wolken said.
A balanced performance is like a balanced meal, he said: It combines elements of light and dark, fast and slow, and if it is done right it makes a theatrical movement.
“I think Pilobolus offers a rich palate,” Wolken said, adding people should not be afraid to attend an art performance such as Pilobolus. “You don’t know until you try it. It all goes back to when you were a kid and you were told to try the broccoli. As we grow up we expand our tastes.”
Pilobolus hopes to entice a crowd willing to expand their palates. The troupe performs at 8 p.m. in the Grand Theatre at the Grand Sierra Resort. Tickets are $30, $40 and $50 and can be purchased by visiting www.renoisartown.com or www.grandsierraresort.com. Tickets can also be purchased at the Grand Sierra Resort box office or by calling (800) 648-3568.
For more information about Pilobolus and to see videos of the troupe’s performances, visit www.pilobolus.com.