“Alchemia” is about transformation, transmutation and the unconscious, as in a dream state, said Moses Pendelton, artistic director of MOMIX, who brings his dance odyssey to the Spreckels Theatre Friday, March 13 as a guest of the La Jolla Music Society Dance Series.
“We loosely base the show on the elements of fire, earth, air and water,” Pendelton said from his home in snowy Connecticut. “There is magic in ‘Alchemia,’ and optical confusion and strangeness. The logic is the musical flow and dynamic of imagery that is coming before you. With MOMIX you should expect the unexpected.”
Pendelton is an unorthodox choreographer. He graduated with a B.A. in English Literature in 1971, and that same year co-founded Pilobolos, known for humorous human sculpture. He created MOMIX in 1981 and performs and makes dances for other companies, too. MOMIX has worked on projects in film and television. Pendleton created the “Doves of Peace” segment of the Sochi Olympics’ opening ceremony.
His new work “Alchemia,” requires a truckload of special equipment and props.
“This is a complex show because there are flying wires, ropes, mirrors and sets to move and test, and the music never stops,” Pendelton said. “The show has to move seamlessly to keep you in a trance. I put 17 pieces together, including some by composer Ennio Morricone, the guy who did a lot of the spaghetti westerns, such as ‘The Good the Bad and the Ugly.’ He’s such a talented composer. There’s a piece with Yo Yo Ma playing a Morricone lament. There’s modern classical stuff and little pieces to help you see the dance, almost like a film score.”
“Alchemia” runs with no intermission, about 88 minutes. Women in stiff cone-shaped skirts transform into unknown creatures. Dancers balance on giant golden horseshoes. Pendelton says there is no narrative, although images are evocative.
“MOMIX comes from mixing elements of visual physical theater, costumes, props, lights and music to extend the range of the body and create new means of locomotion,” he said. “I always take an almost painterly approach to choreography. I create the picture first, and then I try to move it through time and space.”
Pendelton didn’t plan to be a choreographer. He jokes that the universe wanted him to break a leg. “I grew up on my father’s dairy farm in Vermont,” Pendelton said, “and I came into dance by accident. I was a skier. Every summer, I went to Mt. Hood in Oregon to train with the Austrian ski team. My dream was to be a downhill racer — then I broke my leg. I took a dance class to get back in shape for the ski team. The rest was very biological. I followed my dance instructor who was much more attractive than the ski coach. I started making dances back at Dartmouth. Those were formative years. I got a sense of living a life in the physical mode, expressing myself with the body, and keeping it in shape. With MOMIX, it was always putting the aesthetic on the athletic.”
MOMIX dancers are highly trained, Pendelton said. They do their warm-up at ballet bars. They have to dance on their feet and hands, and act out imagery that isn’t always human, but it’s not Cirque du Soleil.
“We use simple things to change the anatomy of the body,” Pendelton said. “Put PVC piping in your clothing and you get shape shifting. There are no rules, only the obligation to have an explosion of wild inventions that get distilled and become choreography. It’s an organic process. There are discoveries and it’s very collaborative. The essential part is to keep it fun, as child’s play.
“Alchemy is quite a spectacle, like watching a painting in motion. There’s a very physical thrill of a finely tuned body doing amazing things live.”