Beyond Reason | Performing Arts Sidebar | Chicago Reader

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe



at Centre East

March 18 and 19

Momix's concert at Centre East stunned me, delighted me, overwhelmed me, awed me. Companies like Momix help me to resee, rethink, and finally recognize the world, imbuing it with a kind of beauty and, yes, sacredness all too often absent.

Momix uses the simplest of means: a few well-engineered props, precisely placed lights, and their own highly tuned bodies. But out of this bare landscape grow theatrical images that are not only technically and aesthetically masterful but emotionally supercharged as well. Their dances center around images of birth and the preconscious, suspended in a refreshingly nonrational space. This is the land of association and intuition, of illogic and inspiration. In this primordial world--in which the dancers, with their delicate and fluid technique, seemingly perform underwater--imagination soars, intellect becomes irrelevant. Watching Momix is a little like being ducked under Niagara Falls: before we can think, we're immersed.

Momix's game plan in each dance is to take some object or device and explore its dramatic potential. Spawning, for example, consisted of three women--Lisa Giobbi, Cynthia Quinn, and Carolyn Minor--dancing with three huge balloons shaped like eggs. Choreographed by Giobbi, Quinn, and Moses Pendleton, Momix's founder and artistic director, Spawning held me spellbound as the dancers gracefully and expertly handled their precious cargo, never letting the balloons go yet never seeming burdened by their demanding size. These women, demonstrating consummate skill and control, lugged their balloons on their backs or laid their arms over the balloons' white, tense surfaces or held the balloons in their teeth and twirled beneath them. As part of the final section, the women placed the balloons between their knees and bounced lightly across the stage, their arms extended as if holding reins. The image of three women in nude leotards riding on huge eggs across a stage lit with blue lights demonstrated the purity and virtuosity of Momix's visual language. Here was a stage picture that had no meaning and yet was powerfully meaningful, conjuring up nurturing, birth, flight, a particular side of the feminine.

As a finale to Spawning, the women held the balloons in their teeth and sat on the floor, their legs and arms pointing upward at 45-degree angles. This impossibly difficult position was held with unwavering steadiness by all three performers for perhaps 30 seconds. Then the women lay on their backs and one by one unclenched their teeth, causing the balloons to soar up and out of sight. Only at this point did we realize that these balloons, manipulated so effortlessly throughout the dance, had in fact been filled with helium, undoubtedly always straining to fly from the dancers' hands. What a thrill to see those white shapes liberated, charging upward and disappearing in a matter of seconds. And what a beautiful conclusion to this hallucinatory dance, as the women released their eggs, with all they signified, to the expanse of the sky.

Spawning typified the many strengths of Momix's work: the manipulation and exploitation of simple props; astonishing physical control; the exploration of dense, almost mythic imagery; and a genuine playfulness. Their sense of humor is perhaps the true genius of their work. In Pre Face to Previews, for example, the theater was darkened, and each of the two dancers performed with two flashlights strapped to herself, one just under the rib cage pointing up, one at the knees pointing down. As a result we saw stylized legs and stylized upper bodies but nothing in between--and since sometimes a flashlight was turned off, we often saw legs or torso, not both. Since the dancers had their heads raised, their faces were not lit. Instead, the underside of the chin was illuminated, looking like the head of a snake. These two magically bifurcated figures hopped about, seemingly trading legs and heads, appearing and disappearing in entirely unexpected places. In the final moment of the dance, two legs appeared stage right--with a head ten feet above them, swaying gently back and forth. This was a special effect more engrossing than anything Hollywood could produce. Its power arose not only from its visual perfection but from its modesty. At the same time that it was purposely mystifying, it also admitted that what we saw was merely two people with flashlights taped to them, one of them standing on a box.

It was undoubtedly this candor that made Momix's concert so invigorating. "We want you to see anew some very simple things," the choreographers seemed to be saying. "This is what a human body looks like when precise elements of it are isolated by light." What's more, Momix exploited its tools in ways I had never even imagined possible. Skiva, for example, was a duet performed on skis. And it wasn't awkward or clunky, either; it was pure lyricism. Giobbi and Joseph Mills, who performed the piece, seemingly defied gravity as they lunged forward to balance on the tips of their skis like precisely poised human rocking chairs.

In E.C., a dance performed behind a huge scrim, Momix turned the usually stilted and stagy gimmick of shadow puppetry into an inspired study of the human form in all its smallness, hugeness, and everything-in-betweenness. At one point a man was seen flying through the air a la Superman, complete with a model town whizzing by underneath him. Then his torso fell to the ground, but his legs remained flailing in the air. As in all their work, however, Momix modestly revealed the trick: at the end of E.C., the scrim was lifted to show us two upstage slide projectors whose beams had been crossed, allowing the shadows of two dancers, who stood perhaps ten feet apart, to be joined on the projection surface. Still, how some of the images were actually accomplished--the precision required must have been tremendous--is beyond me.

Momix offered a pure celebration of ingenuity, executed with utter perfection. And beyond it all lay an effusive joy, which shone forth in every gesture and movement. Moses Pendleton and his crew are world-class performers who have tapped into a powerful spirit, a spirit that infuses their work and, in turn, the audience. My questions are: Why was Centre East not packed to the rafters? Why were there perhaps 300 empty seats? And why does Nunsense keep selling out? If this review does anything toward rectifying that situation, it will have accomplished a great deal. Momix is never to be missed. Our spiritless age needs a shot of Momix.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Sven Jacobson.

Support Independent Chicago Journalism: Join the Reader Revolution

We speak Chicago to Chicagoans, but we couldn’t do it without your help. Every dollar you give helps us continue to explore and report on the diverse happenings of our city. Our reporters scour Chicago in search of what’s new, what’s now, and what’s next. Stay connected to our city’s pulse by joining the Reader Revolution.

Are you in?

  Reader Revolutionary $35/month →  
  Rabble Rouser $25/month →  
  Reader Radical $15/month →  
  Reader Rebel  $5/month  → 

Not ready to commit? Send us what you can!

 One-time donation  → 

Add a comment