2015 Fall Arts Preview: Dance

We talked to the people behind two of the biggest shows coming to our area.


If you watched the Academy Awards in 2007, you’ve already seen their film-inspired shadow work. This fall, Pilobolus—the dance company that leaps outside the box—makes a tour stop at the Ridgefield Playhouse. We talked to Associate Artistic Director Reneé Jaworski about finding inspiration, fungus, and setting a Guinness World Record. 

I know everyone asks about this, but you’re named after a fungus that thrives in manure. How do you think that fungus represents the dance company?

The particular fungus that we’re named after is really tiny relative to the acrobatics that it does in order to reproduce. When it’s ripe, it shoots its head off anywhere from six to eight feet in the air. Then, it lands in the grass, where cows eat it up and poop it out to grow. So, I think it’s resourceful, it’s strong, and it looks for the light, which is what we’re always doing. We’re always looking for inspiration. 

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The company has been around for more than 40 years. What do you look to for fresh inspiration?

We really look to the people around us for inspiration. We never go into the studio and tell our dancers what to do. We kind of spill a toy box on the floor—whether that be props or ideas or music—and say, ‘Okay, what do you guys want to do with this stuff?’ We bring in outside collaborators as well. We’ve worked with graphic artists like Art Spiegelman, with writers like Etgar Keret, and we worked with Steve Banks—who is a head writer for SpongeBob SquarePants—on a full evening show called Shadowland.

How would you describe Pilobolus’s style of dance to people who aren’t familiar with it? 

I would say that we’re athletic. We draw from many different backgrounds of movement from martial arts to modern dance to fencing. We tend to climb on each other a little bit. We tend to use each other’s bodies to make things that we can’t make alone. We’re the gateway dance company. People who don’t know what dance is, or don’t like dance, always tell us, ‘Wow, I get what you guys do.’ It’s something that’s accessible to people outside of the dance world. 

What type of influence has Pilobolus had on dance? 

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Everybody always questioned whether what they were doing was dance or not. The founders thought, ‘This is great. We’re going to continue to make people question what dance is.’ [As] more people started questioning their own ideas of what dance could be, they incorporated it, little by little, into their own work and started to push their own boundaries. It’s not just pushing the human body but pushing the human mind to step outside of what society says dance is. 

In 2011, you set a Guinness World Record for the most people in a Mini Cooper with 26 people. What made you decide to do that?

We thought it was cool. Given that we are kind of masters at putting human bodies together, we figured we could do that in a tight space too. It was really us thinking, ‘This is a problem-solving situation. Let’s solve the problem.’

You’re performing at the Ridgefield Playhouse on September 25. Can you give us a sneak peek of what to expect? 

The Ridgefield Playhouse is a really great venue. We’ve performed there before; it’s really fun. What I’m thinking about for that venue is a series of solos, duets, and trios. One trio is called On the Nature of Things, and it’s a beautiful piece based on Adam and Eve in the garden.

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Check out Pilobolus here: 

September 25
Ridgefield Playhouse

Wanderer Lust

Choreographer Jessica Lang has created ballets for everyone from the National Ballet of Japan to the Guggenheim to Juilliard (her alma mater). On November 22, her dance company comes to the Performing Arts Center at Purchase College to perform The Wanderer, her first full-length ballet set to Franz Schubert’s song cycle Die schöne Müllerin

 How did you decide to use Schubert’s song cycle? 

A few years ago, I had sketched a tree that I thought could be made of white string. Joe Melillo, the director of BAM [Brooklyn Academy of Music], was giving me this opportunity to be presented at the Next Wave Festival, and I thought about this tree, and I was like, ‘This is what I’m going to do at BAM, but I need to find a reason. Why is this tree on stage?’ I stumbled upon Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin. It’s the story of a wanderer who’s in the woods and comes across a brook. It leads him to a mill where he falls in love with the miller’s daughter, who loves the color green. He’s carrying a bag that has a green ribbon tied to it, and he gives her this as a sign of love. But it’s misleading him. She only takes it because it’s green. Then, the same brook leads a hunter who’s dressed in green to the mill, and, of course, the girl falls in love with the hunter. The wanderer becomes tormented by nature because everything is green, so he ends up throwing himself into the brook and dies. It’s sad, but really beautiful—a universal theme of love and loss. I knew immediately that this was the story that I needed to make it into the ballet. 

You choose to personify the brook and have someone dance the part. Why?

Once I read the poetry, it became crystal clear. In the book, he’s constantly questioning her: ‘Did you lead me here on purpose? Is this why you brought me here?’ It would be silly if he was not gesturing or communicating to someone else. 

Are there other set elements that correlate to the music? 

We have scaffolding. The singer starts raised above the stage, looking down over everything. He eventually joins the action and becomes part of it because it’s from his perspective. He’s the wanderer. They’re the same person. 

Tell us about the costumes Bradon McDonald designed. 

We really wanted them to have a contemporary feel. For the hunter, we went for a sort of punk design, because sometimes when you dress a very tall man in all green, it starts to look like the Jolly Green Giant. The brook has a very beautiful dress. There’s this cross-stitching that’s like 2,700 stitches or more. Brady’s got so much attention to detail, and, because he was this incredible dancer, he understands what costumes need to be for dance. 

You’re also performing The Calling at Purchase. Where did the idea for that piece come from? 

I dreamed about this skirt, and it was just fabric stretching across the stage. I asked a designer just to sew a lot of fabric together. We cut a hole in it, and I stood in it. It was like, ‘Oh my God. This is something else.’ Then we cut it into a circle, and it became a skirt. I don’t just have The Calling in the skirt. I have many different pieces much like van Gogh has many different sketches of sunflowers. When you have one idea, sometimes it deserves different investigations. The Calling is my favorite of these investigations. It’s the simplest—the one piece that I did for myself.  

Jessica Lang Dance, The Wanderer
November 22
Performing Arts Center at Purchase College

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