When I was a child, I was fascinated by shadow puppets, how a hand could appear to be a chicken or a monster or some other fantastic creature. In their evening-length piece Shadowland, Pilobolus has married this childhood delight with athletically choreographed dance to create a luxuriant feast for the senses.
The fanciful story, developed with the collaboration of SpongeBob SquarePants head writer Steven Banks, transports the audience from a young girl’s bedroom to a dreamworld of adventure, transformation, struggle and self-discovery. This world is inhabited by creatures of all sorts: some kind, some evil, some comical, some monstrous, all remarkable.
The show begins with an empty stage, ringed by all the props and costumes the dancers will need to tell the story. Absent is any furniture; those roles will be filled by dancers. A girl appears and chooses her costume, nightclothes of ruffled white. Other dancers, clad in the briefest of red accented grey, appear, as if from nowhere, to lift her on waves of whimsy and deposit her into her costume. Indeed, forces out of her control will propel her through space, both literally and figuratively, throughout our time with her.
Having seen them once before, I remembered that one of the remarkable things about Pilobolus is the intense physicality of the company, and this group did not disappoint. On the open stage, they make demanding choreography appear effortless; challenging lifts had the girl floating on air and expressive movement highlighted the emotion of the story. Behind the screen, they create impossible shadow images from imaginative poses; hands became crabs and bodies became monsters (or chairs).
From my seat at the outer edge of center orchestra, I could see some of the mechanics of the magic as they rolled in and out of place and assembled props and costumes. What a delightful surprise that was!
Another delightful surprise came after the curtain call when the troupe presented an ode to Texas and to Dallas in particular. Sad to say, it was the most responsive the audience was all night, but perhaps they were just transfixed by the spectacle that came before.
A final tip of the hat to collaborator David Poe, musician, producer and film composer. Never obtrusive and always illuminating, the musical canvas created an eloquent underpinning for the performance. Thank you to TITAS for continuing to bring beautifully innovative dance to Dallas audiences.