Pilobolus dances its way to McAninch stage

Pilobolus will dance on the McAninch stage on April 17.  |  Submitted photo
Pilobolus will dance on the McAninch stage on April 17. | Submitted photo

You’ve probably seen them even if you didn’t know it at the time.

The modern dance troupe Pilobolus comes to The McAninch Arts Center at the College of DuPage April 17 for an 8 p.m. show.

Pilobolus, which formed in 1971, has performed at the Olympics, at the Academy Awards, “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and for audiences around the world.

Pilobolus is named after a barnyard fungus that propels its spores with extraordinary speed, accuracy and strength. Performances are characterized by intense athleticism, physical interaction between the performers and contortions requiring extreme strength and flexibility.

Dancer, choreographer and associate artistic director Renee Jaworski has been with Pilobolus for 14 years. She started as a dancer with Pilobolus offshoot group Momix in 1994.

Luring audiences to see modern dance is tricky, she said. In the end, it’s about presenting them with something they can understand and making them look at it in a different way. Yet, there’s competition not just from other companies, but also from the fact that people can stay home and be entertained, she said.

“I think the reason people still go to movies even though they can watch it in their living rooms is that it’s a shared experience,” she said. “It’s about going to do something with people that share your interest. And the energy that’s created in a room when you’re watching something … everything gets to be a little more heightened, and your connection to the world becomes broader and you’re no longer alone in a room watching something, you’re in the world watching something. And that’s what are performances are about; making human connections, both onstage and off.”

Although the name is a mouthful to say, she is constantly hearing from people who have seen Pilobolus before and didn’t realize it.

“Even if they don’t know our name, they’ll go, ‘Oh, you’re the people who did the Oscars in 2007; those shadow people.’ ‘Oh, you were on Sesame Street in the ’70s. I totally remember that,’” she said. “They do make the connection and we do get that a lot. I think people see us and know us, but don’t know they know us.”

Pilobolus creates new work every year, and each year there are 18 to 25 pieces to create a program from, she said.

Glen Ellyn audiences can expect to see a mixture of old and newer works, Jaworski said.

There will be a dance called “Automaton,” which is a “take on technology and how it affects human connection and how it can work for us and against us.”

They worked with Trish Sie, a constant collaborator with the band OK Go, on a piece called “Skyscrapers” which uses OK Go music, the tango and lots of colors, she said.

“It’s really fun and uses projection. It’s really visual and we put our Pilobolus twist on this video she has made,” she said. “We took it and turned it into our own version of the video. The video was a jumping off point, and taking the idea that she used — which is costume changes, color and tango — we worked with her to put a Pilobolus twist on it.”

Another dance they’ll perform, called “esc,” was created with magicians Penn and Teller, Jaworski said.

“We went to Vegas to work with them in their theater, and what they suggested to us was to do Houdini-inspired escape acts. Houdini was a showman, but he was so physical it matches the Pilobolus physicality. The escapes that we developed with them are all based on what our amazing dancers can do with their bodies. They’re strong, they’re limber, they’re agile; they’re witty and crafty as well. They can get out of these situations in ways that are surprising.”

A collaboration with Trish Sie and Jaworski is the new work called “Licks,” which uses ropes.

“The show has five pieces and it starts when you walk in the door,” she said. “The dancers are on stage and ready to converse in some way. It’s going to be a fun night. We’re happy to be coming back to Glen Ellyn.”

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