Both Roger Catlin, in his April 24, 2015 article in The Washington Post, and GMU Dance Professor Dan Joyce, during his pre-performance discussion, describe MOMIX as “dancer-illusionists.” They also quote Moses Pendleton, the founder of MOMIX and, earlier, a founding member of Pilobus Dance Theater, as saying, “Pilobus uses bodies as props, MOMIX uses props as bodies, combining bodies to create other imagery.”
Pendleton gives his dancers an unusual degree of freedom to have the dance grow organically. According to Professor Dan Joyce, he often will throw out an idea and let the dancers interpret it. Pendleton will then edit and refine it, often through several iterations. This allows the dancers to grow as artists, not only as technicians. Pendleton serves as a choreographer and director and has his hand in the technical matters of video projections, music and costume design.
Alchemia bombards the senses and stretches the mind through exquisite use of dancers, props, costumes, projections and sound. Technical Director Woodrow F. Dick III certainly had his hands full. As with most MOMIX productions, Alchemia is based on one theme or big picture: in this case, middle age alchemy, a seemingly magical process of transformation, creation or combination based on the use of the elements of earth, air, fire and water.
As the evening unfolded, so did the evolution of life, starting with water, moving to fire, the beginning and development of life on earth, and finally, the spread of people from the initial cradle of civilization to inhabit most of the available land mass. The projections on the back wall of the stage helped guide one through this process. Starting with water, the projections slowly evolved into rocks, then scenescapes with plants, at first sparse and later abundant. During the evolution into rocks, dancers dressed in red, suggesting fire, and long poles graced the stage. The latter part of the “fire segment” involved a group dance of the men and poles, which I saw as the transformation of earth into solid and liquid. At the climax of each transformation, the often droning music would seem to pulsate and become lighter.
One of my favorite parts of the 80 minute production is what I interpreted as the development of women and their essential fertility. Using the same prop, periodically re-arranged under their dresses, the women displayed various components of fertility reminiscent of the fertility figures found in sub-saharan Africa. Starting with very broad hips at the beginning of the dance, the women shifted them to portray large buttocks, essential for storing nutrients in times of scarcity, and eventually, large breasts with which to feed the young. This is only one of the many innovative costumes designed by Phoebe Katzin. As the four dancers left the stage, one noticed a man and woman in shimmery white laying on the floor. The woman then performed a very complicated dance while being lifted and lowered repeatedly, further extending the concept of the emergence of a female force. Eventually she descends into a group of women in pristine white hoop dresses who glide around the stage so smoothly it is as if on roller skates.
The final stage of what I saw as the development and spread of hominoids, first the female, later joined by the males, worked with a complex set of mirrors which, depending on the dancers movements, reflected a few clones and, as the dancing became more frenzied, what appeared to be hoards. Thus the generation of life to populate the planet
The evening closed with the accomplishment of the Middle Age or Renaissance alchemist’s goal. Women in shimmering gold danced alone, then were lifted by men concealed in black rectangles, which I took to represent lead, the metal from which alchemists tried to create gold.
In contrast to the seriousness of Alchemia, the company frolicked through a lighthearted encore.
Unlike most modern dance companies, MOMIX is a for-profit company that has branched into new endeavors such as commercials and performing at the 2014 Olympic Game opening ceremonies. Professor Joyce also noted that MOMIX could support three traveling dance groups at one time.
Running Time: 80 minutes, with no intermission.
MOMIX’s Alchemia was performed on May 2 and 3, 2015 at the George Mason University’s Center for the Arts – 4373 Mason Pond Drive, in Fairfax, VA. For future events, go to their calendar of events. Here is MOMIX’s US performance schedule.
Audaciously Magical MOMIX Performing on the Center for the Arts Stage Tomorrow Night at 8 PM by David Siegel in his column ‘In the Moment’ on DCMetroTheaterArts.