Innovative Dance Company Brings Alchemy to Houston

Connecticut-based MOMIX's new show is inspired by the medieval "science" of turning lead into gold.

By Adam Castañeda October 10, 2014

Oct 10 at 8
Jones Hall
615 Louisiana St

When creating a new dance, it’s not uncommon for a choreographer to walk into the studio on the first day of rehearsals armed with only a single phrase of movement. That phrase is then expanded, refined through a series of workshops, manipulated through improvisation, and given over to the dancers, who add their own flourishes and choreographic impulses. The final dance may contain the original phrase, or it may not—the end product often looks completely different than that first moment of inspiration. In this way, choreography is like alchemy—the medieval “science” of transmuting lead and other raw materials into gold.

This process is the source of inspiration for MOMIX’s latest full-length show, Alchemia, in which the acclaimed Connecticut-based company plays prime mover to the four classical elements of earth, air, fire, and water. MOMIX is no stranger to magic; created in 1980 by Moses Pendleton, one of the founding members of Pilobolus Dance Theater, MOMIX has built a reputation for presenting visually stunning dance shows that utilize light design and costumes to transform the human body

But dance is only one of the ingredients in a MOMIX show. “I think [Alchemia is] full of surprises,” Pendleton told me. “It’s not only one element. It’s visual, physical theater that uses props and lighting to create an otherworldly dreamscape.” If this sounds like an overproduced extravaganza, it’s not. In several sequences, there’s a sense of finding beauty in the bare human form. In one of the later dances, a body descends from above, illuminated by star-like projections. It’s received by four orb-like bodies that seem to hover over it in a tight flower formation. The stage lights go up and the orbs break away, revealing a fifth body, now also a floating shape identical to the other four. The orbs are actually billowing dresses made of an almost translucent material, and the female dancers travel them across the stage in simple formations. Danced to “Horizon,” by Swiss composer Ralph Zurmühle, it’s easy to imagine the quintet as astral bodies in motion, or perhaps dandelions sailing through the wind.

Pendleton said his early performance experience with Pilobolus Dance Theater, a company known for its physically demanding work, has made lasting impact on his choreographic approach. “It is a process of improvisation,” he explains. “In this case, I would be coming into the studio with MOMIX-trained dancers with the idea that we’re going to do something about fire. And we would think about what we would we wear, and we remembered we had red dresses. Then it’s about connecting to those dresses, connecting to the fabric, trying to create a vision of a dancer inside a flame.” Pendleton places a major emphasis on imagery, and bringing that imagery to life via movement and design.

His work is also highly musical; Alchemiaalone makes use of some 20 pieces of music woven together into a continuous score. MOMIX is a dance company, but its performances have mass appeal. Pendleton says he wants his work to be appreciated by everyone. “If the audience leaves with a little less gravity in their step, then I think it’s a success,” he says. “Hopefully, they will experience some of the mystery and magic of the natural world.” 


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