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Lewis J Whittington
Performance Programs
Performance Reviews
Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
United States
Philadelphia, PA

MOMIX's Alchemia suffered from too much tinkering

by Lewis J Whittington
May 8, 2014
Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
3680 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
215 898 3900
Moses Pendleton is the Carl Sagan of the dance world, exploring phantasmagoria of our inner universe. He photographs, studies and films subterranea, flora, ice and other biological phenomena and blooms them into movement concepts and choreography for MOMIX. Alchemia had its North American premiere in Philadelphia May 8-11 where MOMIX has a longstanding avid fan base at the Annenberg Center's Dance Celebration. Artistic director Randy Swartz usually adds a performance to the run due to demand. The troupe's last appearance in 2012 was with Botanica and its world of flora, with Alchemia, Pendelton includes humans among the most examined creatures.

The opening fire and water tableau has a deep-sea fish trolling the air of the Annenberg stage, but it is meant to represent one of the ancient gods taking a form to change matter in sea. Soon enough beautiful dancers in fiery red gowns fly through the strata of water and fire. The music is ancient Kabala-esque pulsing universal seed sounds. The forms come out of the firmament in ritual invocations and Dionysian theatrical sexualis. For the literary minded, there is a Dantesque tableau with gorgeous silk fabric, flown on sticks by the dancers in one of the many arresting stage pictures that Pendleton creates.

The men brandish bamboo poles and blow through them like Japanese wind instrument or put their arms in them and interlock into a square, which a female dancer hops in with a primal flash dance. At one point, they are positioned upright and dancers seem to appear out of nowhere. Even when you realize how it is optically done, it doesn't destroy the illusion.

Pendleton explained later to the audience, in a chat with Swartz, that at some points the poles are deliberately phallic symbols. Later, thing are even more sexually overt as the men are bare-chested prone on the floor and the women enter with bulbous headpieces and buttocks, but they shift the parts to their hips, then to their breasts, seeing what works best, as the men leap from their frog positions to razor sharp leaps to splits, or tight-tilted barrel rolls.

But things don't stay primordially bawdy forever; a more romantic vignette has a male-female couple making beautiful love, discreetly, lit with such fine line pin spots The woman is on a wire and she floats around the man in a stunning, if uninventive, pas de deux. Working his own magic throughout Alchemia is Michael Korsch's lighting design.

At some point, women are hydrofoiling around the stage in papery hoop gowns literally get clammy when they peal some of the layers over their heads. Enter two men entire in sculpted metallic costumes that make their bodies look bisected, and their brief appearance remains incongruous. A section that seemed stuck, along with these creatures, in the dance twilight zone of Pendleton's mind.

For anatomy students there is the aerobics of the nervous systems, with dancers virtually invisible (presumably in black bodystockings) whose venous nervous systems are illuminated as they air glide around on some sort of unseen elliptical equipment to create freaky forensic movement and positions. This plays out long enough for it to look like an infomercial.

The lengthy concepts frustrate, because there are good movers onstage, you can feel cheated that there is not more dance. But that is a matter of taste. Oddly, some sections seemed abbreviated, like the tall stalking figures resembling the Druids who appear and modulate their robes so that they spin out a la the Sufi dancers.

The finale with mirrors creating doubles of the dancers who are dressed in metallic cutaway outfits and creates kaleidoscopic bodyscapes. This strikes as gimmicky in the more organic creative fields of Pendleton. But if it seemed cheesy, but it must be noted that it was a hit with this audience. The troupe then performed a curtain call in an oval structure that split apart and they used it as a dance-gymnastic apparatus ala Cirque du Soleil, also lustily approved by this audience, even though it also has the feel of a cut and paste. No cheap tricks though with Pendleton's soundtrack, a transporting 'collage' of music and sound effects.

Photo © & courtesy of Max Pucciariello

Photo © & courtesy of Max Pucciariello

Photo © & courtesy of Max Pucciariello

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