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When a few athletically ambitious souls decided to group themselves into a dance collective at Dartmouth College in l971, they named it Pilobolus after P. crystallinus, a fungus that feeds on dung. Over the years the company has enlarged and expanded as fungi do. Today it’s a popular entertainment, whereas it was once as rare a taste as a truffle.

The repertoire increasingly includes pieces with more obvious themes than the convoluted “living statuary” style they began with. Jonathan Walken’s new B’zyrk, choreographed in collaboration with his dancers, has a strong circus theme: a seedy family of knockabout clowns and acrobats, down on their luck, practise tricks on each other. Starting with an upbeat, frolicking opening, six dancers costumed in a raggle-taggle medley of garments jump, tumble and jog, falling and tripping over each other in time-honoured circus style.

Acrobatic stunts such as pyramid balancing and somersaults with two or three bodies entwined in a tangle of limbs are all Pilobolus trademarks. But there are little episodes: one nervous female shakes at every tricky challenge, literally playing chicken to the soundtrack’s barnyard noises. The cruel and comic moments have great kid appeal, but the vulgarities make what might have been a touching tale all too deserving the lack of applause.

Slow-motion acrobatics with a ritualistic tinge define Gnome as one of the company’s earlier works. Its four men take turns in supporting and manipulating each other, slowly and deliberately being hoisted on shoulders or rocked back and forth across upturned feet. In Symbiosis Jenny Mendez and Manlich Minniefee entwine in calm convolutions dressed in little more than sumo thongs, completely appropriate for the slow-motion wrestling that concludes with Mendez serenely dominant, perched atop her partner. Megawatt at least proves that even if you’re Pilobolus, wriggling about on the floor to the screechy racket of Primus, Radiohead and Squarepusher, while lights flash on and off, invites you to be firmly scraped away.
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