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Pilobolus FAQ

Pilobolus FAQ

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Published by Elizabeth Duffell

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Categories:Topics, Art & Design
Published by: Elizabeth Duffell on Sep 15, 2011
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09/15/2011

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 A Pilobolus Field GuideThe Natural History of a Primitive Arts Organism
We get asked the same questions a lot, so here, in a
FAQ
list, we answer some of the most common... as well as taking the opportunityto hold forth on a few others we haven’t been asked but ought to be.
WHAT IS PILOBOLUS, ANYWAY?
Pilobolus crystallinus
is a phototropic fungus of the family Zygomycetes. It’s macroscopic - about1/4 inch at maturity - and it’s coprophilous. Actually it’s enthusiastically coprophilous, for unlike itsmore fastidious brethren -
Lasiobolus cainii 
, for instance, which grows exclusively upon the dung of porcupines - Pilobolus is non-discriminatory in its love of dung and if given a chance it’ll cycle throughthe digestive system of any herbivore. It grows on a stalk as a small bladder, pressurized by cell sapand topped with a tiny black cap lled with spores. When the time and Pilobolus are ripe, this entiresporangium is blasted off with incredible force and the little spore bags can shoot over a cow like clownsout of a cannon. It’s reported that the acceleration - from 0-45 mph in the rst mm of ight - is thesecond fastest in nature. Pilobolus is also a ne marksman. It has a kind of primitive eye that guides itsaim and countertop experiments with an illuminated target show it can hit a light source with remarkableaccuracy.Alternatively, of course, there is Pilobolus, the arts organism, a collaborative dance company living inthe hills of Northwest Connecticut and currently engaged in its 38th year of creative mitosis.And to answer the inevitable question...
 
WHY DID YOU NAME YOUR DANCE COMPANY AFTER A FUNGUS?
Well, clearly
P. crystallinus
is worthy of emulation. It’s small but feisty, energetic, responsive, adaptable,adventurous. It lives outdoors. And it’s got good graphics; the name looks cool on a page and seems tohouse, even for those unacquainted with its personality, pleasantly obscure reverberations of athleticismand Greek muscularity. (And even in 1971 we recognised a better marketing line than The VermontNatural Theater, an earlier and quickly jettisoned alternative.)
SO HOW DID YOU ALL GET TOGETHER?
In the fall of 1970 the primordial Pilobolus was an earnest huddle of four young men at DartmouthCollege, in sweatpants and panic, surveying the mist-enshrouded prospect of their rst choreographicassignment. The notion that we should somehow stand by ourselves, alone, in front of other people,was inconceivable, so motivated more by fear than collegiality, we clung to each other, for moral as wellas physical support, and in this way, commingled and mutually-supporting, we began to build dances...en masse.
IS THIS DANCE OR GYMNASTICS?
The training of dancers has traditionally focused upon thecentering of a single body moving alone through space. Our approach - and it was one arrived at through nothing morethan sheer necessity - was to construct ourselves into a groupshape, something that we hoped made references beyond itself - to plants or insects or cell walls - and then to try to make itmove. We subsequently discovered that when people dancetogether it’s called partnering and that it’s customarily done inpairs. The dance world seemed not to possess the terminologyto deal with a clump of four men twisted together like proteinsand we attracted a lot of curious attention. And incredibly,the possibilities seemed to open in front of us with constantlyrenewing detail as we explored the opposing and mirrored sidesof this new world... the rst a purely physical one where weightsand balances and the forces of tension and release yieldedcontinually surprising ways of moving... and the second a sortof parallel kingdom of psychological suggestion where, becausewe were constantly in physical contact with each other, theresonance of touch ickered through all our interactions insideanother domain governed by emotion and implication.
HOW CAN YOU START A DANCE COMPANY WITHOUT ANY TRAINING IN DANCE?
In retrospect, the notion that a group of men who didn’t know what dance was could create choreographyof validity and merit was profoundly subversive. It proposes that training and technique and knowledgeof a eld and reverence for its traditions and history are all interesting accoutrements but ultimatelyunnecessary for the creation of art. And this certainly raises interesting questions about the nature of the naive, the primitive, and what is now referred to as Outsider Art. In fact, dancemaking with Piloboluscan easily be seen as the choreographic equivalent of chainsaw sculpture. (There’s also the curiousfact that although we humans have a record of our species’ artistic activity going back more than 20,000
 
years, it is perfectly clear to everyone that the art itself has not become any better. But that’s another subject.)
HOW ARE YOU DIFFERENT FROM OTHER DANCE COMPANIES?
Another result of our enthusiastically collective enterprise wasthe conviction that an individual’s response to his own solitarycreative impulses is only one way to make art, and that twoor three people or more can work together simultaneously tostructure their ideas into real forms, beneting from the power of group thinking without losing the essential idiosyncrasy of individual intent.Now in a certain sense this is all obvious. The arts are ancientand their history begins with untrained practitioners at theservice of communal ritual. But the world of dance into whichour improbable spores were blown in 1971 was a very differentgrowing medium. Even the relatively brief history of Americanmodern dance was thick in tradition and its evolution wassustained by an unbroken thread of mentor/protégé relationshipsreferring to and drawing strength from the same history as newchoreographers turned themselves sequentially into dancepriests and priestesses for succeeding generations.When we began to make dances, this daunting genealogy was lost on us. We were entirely andunspeakably oblivious of what had come before... and in countless ways our lives as choreographershas been made possible by a sort of useful and insulating Forrest Gumpishness. With no history to drawfrom we’ve had to invent our own. And in the process we’ve learned some things... specically aboutabout how people with no training can work together to make dances... but perhaps more generally aswell about the ways in which a group can approach problem solving.Certainly, the group itself is an inexorable feature of our business. Unlike a painter who can keep a sketchbookduring a trip to the mountains or a composer who can sit at the piano and let her ngers wander acrossthe keys, in Pilobolus, because of our dening interest in the ways that bodies interact, we need our fellowchoreographers as well as an entire company of dancers... all in one room at the same time.
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE IN YOUR COMPANY NOW?
A few strata of evolutionary detail: Although Pilobolus began as a men’s company, we were soon joinedby two women (including our rst and only dance instructor from college) and continued until the early1980’s as a group of 6 dancer/choreographers who both created and performed all our work. Then,over a period of years, we replaced ourselves as performers with younger and more exible dancers,two of our fellow founders left the fold entirely for more controllable circumstances, and we remain now,as we’ve been for the last twelve years, a company of four choreographers and six dancers.
HOW DO YOU PREPARE FOR THE CHOREOGRAPHY?
While everyone brings to this strange event (collaborative choreography) a highly individualised setof references - indeed the entire success of the enterprise rests upon that necessity - for us the art of 

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