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Bodies in concert: Pilobolus returns to awe audiences

Friday, September 29, 2017

True to its name, Pilobolus Maximus: Beyond the Limits of Dance, the appropriately titled collaborative dance production from Pilobolus, will not only test the bounds of its performers’ abilities but the imagination of audience members as well.

Pilobolus, the internationally acclaimed contemporary dance company, will return to the Mary D’Angelo Performing Arts Center at Mercyhurst University for a mixed repertory program Tuesday, Oct. 10, at 7:30 p.m., presented by the Mercyhurst Institute for Arts & Culture.

Since its creation in 1971, Pilobolus has challenged the limits of human physicality to explore the possibilities human bodies can achieve when moving in concert with each other.

Pilobolus productions make significant use of physical interaction between the bodies of the performers by employing their physical strength and acrobatic athleticism to transform groups of dancers into anthropomorphic formations. With equal parts physicality and artistry, these forms interact with each other to create characters and storylines.

Mark Santillano, an assistant professor in Mercyhurst University’s Dance Department who toured with Pilobolus as a dance captain from 1995 until 1998, said a defining feature is not just the physical synergy on display during the show but the collaboration that goes into forming the program.

“Pilobolus is pretty unique in that everything they do is created collaboratively,” he said. “Whereas most companies might have one, maybe two choreographers, they have three or four artistic directors. Also, the dancers are actively involved in creating the production and providing their input.”

Pilobolus Maximus takes the most disparate and impactful pieces from the Pilobolus’ past and present to create a series of continually changing worlds. This production consists of five unique programs telling stories through movement: a la B’zyrk, On the Nature of Things, Branches, [esc] and Rushes.

As diverse as the works are that compose Pilobolus Maximus, so too are the creative disciplines that make up a Pilobolus production. From its inception more than 40 years ago, Pilobolus has been recognized as a pioneering force within the modern dance movement, integrating concepts from a wide range of different genres.  

“When they started what they do, no one else was doing it,” Santillano said. “They brought a whole new perspective to dance I think partly because the creators were not classically trained dancers so there was a bit of innocence to their approach.

“They really expanded what people considered dance to be.”

To date, the company has created more than 100 collaborative works, becoming one of the most popular and enduring companies in contemporary dance.

Pilobolus has performed on some of the largest stages of American entertainment, such as Ellen, Oprah, Sesame Street, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Late Night with Conan O’Brien and the 79th Academy Awards in 2007. In addition, the group has been featured on numerous art and dance institutions, including the Kennedy Center, the American Dance Festival, Jacobs Pillow Dance Festival and at the Joyce Theater in New York. It was also the subject of a profile feature on CBS’s 60 Minutes in 2004.

The company has been recognized with many honors, including a Scripps Award in 2000, a Dance Magazine Award in 2010, a TED Fellowship, a 2012 Grammy Award nomination and several Cannes Lion Awards at the International Festival of Creativity. In 2015, Pilobolus was named one of the Dance Heritage Coalition’s “Irreplaceable Dance Treasures."

Despite the accolades and celebrity it enjoys, Pilobolus continues to find new and creative ways to amaze audiences. That includes Santillano.

“Since the very first time I saw them, I thought they were terribly creative, very funny and lots of fun,” he said. “Still, I continue to be big fan of them and if someone were to look at the choreography work I’ve done, they would probably be able to see the influence they’ve had on me.”

Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and $10 for students and youth 12 and younger. Tickets can be purchased online at or by calling the box office at 814-824-3000.

The 2017-18 MIAC Live season is made possible through the generosity of Dr. & Mrs. Robert Guelcher, Cumulus Media and the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority. The performance is sponsored by H. Jack’s Plumbing & Heating Co., Pro Reality, Inc., and WICU.

MIAC has also partnered with the Erie Dance Consortium for this performance.