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Momix: Desert Metamorphasis Through Human Movement

By Jane Rice
Illustration by Alex Herrick

Illustration by Alex Herrick

Illustration by Alex Herrick

The desert is an unforgiving ecosystem in a constant state of transformation. Hot, sun-drenched days when gila monsters prowl transform into cold nights when frogs leap under a blanket of stars. Momix too transforms the human body into the teeming life of the desert with acrobatics, fluid dance, and a touch of playful humor. Its lackluster uniformity and occasional offbeat synchronization leave some to be desired, however.

Momix’s “Opus Cactus” is directed by Moses Pendleton, who created the experimental dance troupe. Inspired by nature, with music from indigenous desert communities, Momix takes a Midwestern audience on a journey through the vast desert of the American Southwest with illusionistic and innovative choreography, using little more than light, props, and the human body.

In “Opus Cactus”, dancers are reborn in the form of lizards, snake charmers, frogs, and jungle cats, inspired by the fluidity and grace of desert life. In “Gila Dance”, four dancers merge together to resemble the king of the ecosystem, the gila monster. They engage in smooth and expressive dance that shows the different moods of the beast: anger, triumph, and sleepiness. Throughout the dance, the dancers come apart to perform individually, but they begin to lose their flawless synchronization and become off beat.

In much of the performance, the dancers appear to have no need to conform to gravity's pull. In “Meditation”, two dancers roll around on a silver ball, the director’s take on a ‘dream catcher’. Somehow they stay upright and balanced, performing peaceful body undulations, despite the ball rolling and spinning, taking them upside down. While this scene is awe-inspiring, other scenes seem mundane in comparison. Following it is “Sundance”, a performance of female dancers with skirts that look like Japanese fans. While enjoyable, the performance feels long and slow-moving in comparison to the previous dance.

Lending to their ability to merge together and create singular creatures, the dancers are almost completely uniform in body shape, size, and skin tone. While important for scenes such as the “Gila Dance,” their uniformity is uninteresting to the eye and the lack of diversity is unimpressive for a modern dance company.

The final dance, “First Contact,” seems out of place with the rest of the show. The dancers perform a beautiful and striking trapeze act from swings descending from the ceiling, but behind them is an almost cartoonish monster that looks like giant black sheet with a Halloween mask. While other parts of the show incorporate playful humor when appropriate, this seems out of place in comparison the the beauty of the dancers. Still, in spite of this tacky detail, the dancers perform an engaging scene of fear as they try to escape the monster, but are restrained by the swings.

Full of delightful and unexpected choreography, Momix’s show tests the limits of the human body and the audience’s imagination. Despite some flaws, the performance was engaging and creative, and a unique take on the traditional conventions dance.


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