It's a rare occasion when St. Louisans have the opportunity to view live performances by not one but two ingenious, world-class dance companies in the same weekend. Not only will Pilobolus Too and the Parsons Dance Company showcase captivating contemporary choreography this weekend -- the former at Edison Theatre, the latter at COCA -- both will present programs that embrace a sense of comedy and playfulness, luring audiences into the netherworlds of modern dance with subtle humor, satire and plain old fun.
Pilobolus Too will present their trademark weight-sharing approach to partnering and lifts, an acrobatic way of melding multiple dancers' bodies into singular illusions. This human sculpture has made them instantly recognizable worldwide. "Two bodies disappear and become one shape," explains Pilobolus Too dancer Adam Battelstein. "But instead of feeling like you disappear, you feel like you are enlarged. Audience members ask, 'Whose body is that limb coming from?'"
This widely popular three-person version of the 10-dancer company will offer seven new and classic Pilobolus works, including "greatest hits" created over the past 30 years by the parent company. Leading Pilobolus veterans Battelstein, Rebecca Jung and Rebecca Stenn will take turns performing the demanding solos and duets, which are woven together by transitional moments supported by electric-bass guitarist Jay Weissman.
Pilobolus Too's program, which premiered this summer in New York City, includes two signature pieces of the 1970s inspired by flora: "Alraune" and "Shizen." These were choreographed by company founder Moses Pendleton and St. Louis native and Washington University alumna Alison Becker Chase, who's now in charge of the company.
Other pieces include "Femme Noire," which partners its heroine with a black hat that has a life of its own; and "Solo From the Empty Suitor," a fairytale piece that offers a lighthearted look at a colorful character searching for love and redemption. Jung calls one of her favorites, "Excerpts From Land's Edge," "both mystical and loony."
The Parsons company returns with five one-hour family concerts. Since 1987, the company has appeared on six continents and presented more than 1,000 performances in the U.S. alone. Artistic Director David Parsons (who will not be in attendance) says the 10-person company will perform five pieces in St. Louis, the newest being "Kind of Blue," which premiered in Italy as a tribute to Miles Davis. "It's just lowdown jazz cool. It's almost like being in a club at night," says Parsons.
"Caught," Parsons' signature solo, is performed under a strobe light so that the dancer appears airborne for the entire six-minute piece. "People dream of flying, so there's that immediate connection," says Parsons. "It's awe-inspiring. You hear gasps when you perform it." The program ends with "The Envelope," a farcical piece pitting dancers against a piece of stationery.
Whichever company you see, be prepared for both a sensory and emotional high -- and yes, laughter is permitted.