Fusing contemporary circus art, dance, theatre, and music, MOMIX closed out Dance Affiliate’s NextMove Dance Series with Opus Cactus, a theatrical spectacle.
Conceptualized and directed by MOMIX artistic director Moses Pendleton, Opus Cactus engages the senses with puppetry, special effects lighting, and agile bodies. Set to a mesmerizing score ranging in musical genres, this journey through the American southwest was originally created for Ballet Arizona, and was a delightful blend of dancing forms and fantasy.
Built on 19 vignettes, this visual treat was crafted to animate the seldom-seen beauty of the desert landscape. Although Pendleton successfully guided this physical delight, it was the dancers’ approach to each section that demonstrated their strength, technique, versatility, and awareness, allowing them to seamlessly fuse their training with the demands of circus art and physical theatre, creating sublime illusions.
Like French comic book artist Jean Henri Gaston Giraud, a.k.a., Moebius, whose works were said to be “highly imaginative and abstract,” Pendleton’s artistic compositions are often non-linear, but richly expressive. In a recent interview conducted with Pendleton, I asked what the audience should expect. His response, “Expect the unexpected,” was an invitation for the audience to be wowed, but similar to Giraud’s request to his audience, it also gave permission to embrace one’s own experience.
If the presence of illusionistic theatrical elements is overwhelming, from the start, and as a counterpoint, the dancers display an equally astonishing technical proficiency.
An oversized cactus is hoisted, revealing dancer Jenna Marie Graves hidden inside. Framed in silhouette, the elegant Graves snakes through a series of steps, always attentive to placement and form. A graduate of the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, and Eleone Dance Theatre here in Philadelphia, Graves initiates each step with delicate urgency and clarity.
Grounded and athletic, “Pole Dance” highlights three male dancers with props reminiscent of pole vaulting in track and field events. The men are warriors, athletes, and playful teens, using the props as weapons, supports, and toys.
With companies like MOMIX, I sometimes worry whether their interdisciplinary approach may create room for dance to become secondary, or worse, nonexistent on a stage already packed with pageantry. I fear that the dancers may become mere prop handlers. Nonetheless, a huge part of MOMIX’s appeal is their weaving together of multiple disciplines, creating a potpourri of visual opulence.