Arts Dance Featured

Alberta Ballet opens up its 50th season with Pilobolus’ “Shadowland”

// Supplied photo by Ian Douglas
// Supplied photo by Ian Douglas

Pilobolus is not the name of a food company, despite sharing a name with a phototropic fungus. Rather, Pilobolus is a dance theatre company that has been around since 1971.

While the name might sound unfamiliar at first, their abstract movements that use the human body as a graphic and expressive medium (which often features the use of multimedia, projected shadow play and front-of-screen choreography) have been a part of the mainstream landscape for a while.

You may recognize their work in advertisements for American Express, Hyundai, Ford, and Bidvest, as well as at the 2007 Academy Awards. More recently, they performed at the MTV Video Music Award show, where they joined popstar Britney Spears in her return performance at the VMA stage.

“We started to realize that you could create shapes in the same way we put bodies together in our partnering,” says Pilobolus associate artistic director Renée Jaworski. “You can create shapes using multiple bodies almost like you’re drawing a picture, and we used the outline of our bodies and create other shapes, which we call composite images.”

Those silhouette images first debuted in a car commercial back in 2005 when they were asked to create the shape of a car using bodies, but it was soon evolved into the world-touring show, Shadowland.

From a script conceived by Steven Banks, lead writer for Spongebob Squarepants, and an original score by popular American musician David Poe, Pilobolus’ Shadowland tells the coming-of-age story of a teen girl through silhouette and acrobatic dance choreography.

The company will be performing the Canadian premiere of Shadowland in the capital region on September 27 and 28 for the opening of Alberta Ballet’s 50th anniversary season.

While Pilobolus might not have traditional ballet movements involved in their choreography (no frappés here), their involvement in Alberta Ballet’s season illustrates the dance world’s shared enthusiasm of pushing the boundaries of what dance could be, says Jaworski.

During the company’s inception, they were met with criticism and naysayers at that time. Their students had no professional training and no interest in playing by the rules of classical dance techniques. Eventually Pilobolus was recognized for their movements by the dance world and have received a Scripps Award in 2000, a Dance Magazine Award in 2010, a TED fellowship and more, but Jaworski says they’re constantly trying to redefine what dance is.

“We worked with Penn & Teller, the magicians, and we made a piece that was based on Harry Houdini’s escapes. [Our dancers] were put into situations where they had to escape from … and this was the first time in 15 years that it was questioned on whether what we were doing was dance,” says Jaworski. “So, when it was questioned again,  I sort of did a little cheer, because finally after so many years of first being questioned whether [what we were doing] was dance and then being accepted into the dance world only to push it again to the point where people are questioning it again made me feel like we were still relevant.”

This partnership melds the modern and traditional dance worlds, which Jaworski notes, is important for dance companies to maintain relevancy.

“I don’t think the dance world, ballet or modern or any kind of dance, will survive if we don’t keep pushing those boundaries,” says Jaworski. “I think in their own way Alberta Ballet is pushing the boundaries.”

She does have some advice advance of its show in Edmonton: “Come with an open-mind and a desire to leave [your] everyday but also connect to their inner-child.”

Tue, Sep 27 and Wed, Sep 28
Shadowland
Jubilee Auditorium, $24 – $124

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