The Light of Moses Pendleton

Botanica presented by MOMIX is no doubt a must-see for the dance community but I would suggest filmmakers should go see this show, too.

Botanica opens with the illumination of a rose onto the stage curtain. As the curtain lifts revealing layers of curtains with this projected image, I realize the manipulation of light is as important to this show as sunlight is to the botanical life the dancers emulate. Throughout the program Pendleton will project images on, around and behind the dancers in ways that left me wondering how did they do that. The use of light is short of magical and to think they do so much with relatively so little is worthy of mention.

To describe the art in my own words would surely miss the mark. But there are two sequences that left me mesmerized. Dancers mysteriously illuminate a part of their body as if with a magic wand. These illuminated parts are recognizable as a hand or an arm or a leg, and conspire to form animations that make the audience laugh and oohh and wonder. They come together to create a person-like shape then fly off erratically into a new shape. The animations have got to put the dancers through contortions reminiscent of that game Twister. But we cannot see them and so we are left to imagine how they bring these animations to life. The use of darkness (the absence of light) is critical for this illusion. And the production has mastered this art form.

The other sequence that I will describe briefly is a single dancer on a raised platform pitched down toward the audience about 30 degrees. The dancer’s reflection on the riser gives the illusion that she is suspended in mid air. The dance is a seduction and you hear people whispering, “Are there two dancers there?” The only betrayal of this illusion is the white lines where the platform sections come together. I could imagine Moses Pendleton’s request to tape over the lines was overruled by the need to move the sections in and out of the program quickly as there is hardly ever a beat missed from the moment the stage is illuminated.

The culmination of dance and stage craft created by a master painter of light is inspiring and a lot of fun to watch.


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