Author: Becca Vaclavik

A history—and biology—of Pilobolus

Not many modern dance companies last beyond 50 years. And not very many outlast their founders. But Pilobolus, which has toured over 120 pieces of repertoire to more than 65 countries over the past several decades, is positioned to do both.

“To be in a place where we’re on the cusp of all of that is very exciting. It’s very scary at the same time. It feels like a lot of responsibility,” says Renee Jaworski, co-artistic director of the dance company.

Pilobolus began at Dartmouth College in 1971. At the time, Dartmouth had an all-male student body, and Alison Chase, choreographer-in-residence and assistant professor of dance, was one of the only women on campus.

Her classes were mostly taught to students without any experience. As such, her classes were not technique-based. “They were more about using your body to tell stories and create movement using movement that your body innately knows how to do that even when you’re a child, like running, jumping, rolling,” says Jaworski.

When Chase’s students began to experiment with her directions, they started to literally cling to each other and lean on each other—out of fear, as the story goes—and the classwork developed into a sort of physics-based partnering. The first piece they developed was called “Pilobolus,” named for a light-loving fungus that Jaworski says made sense, given the context.

“It’s this tiny little fungus, but it’s strong. It’s one of the fastest accelerating organisms on the planet. And, it bends and twists and turns and looks for the light, shooting its spores off in far-reaching directions.”

Like the spores, the name stuck. The group’s reputation, too, rapidly accelerated.

“People started taking notice, and they started to realize that it didn’t look like anything else that was on the dance stages at the time,” says Jaworski. “I think that it was a time where revolution was a big thing. People were looking out for that, to not conform to what people had seen already was a big thing.”

Fifty years on, the revolution continues.

“Every 10 years or so, Pilobolus has had to reinvent itself in some way. We’re constantly trying to adapt to the world around us.”

For their Boulder performance, titled “Come to your senses,” reinvention looks like videos of vintage science experiments, words spelled in “foot font,” dancers wearing giant eyeballs on their heads, and a dance about fraternity and brotherhood. Some of it is funny and quirky and kinetic; some of it is lyrical and beautiful.

“You experience all these different kinds of feelings when you’re watching live dance that sometimes you don’t understand until a day or two later, or a week or two later, or a year or two later,” shares Jaworski. “In ‘Come to your senses,’ come and feel the sweat, hear the sounds of the music, of the dancers, pounding. You’ll really watch an entire world unfurl in front of you.”

Pilobolus performs “Come to your senses” March 2. Tickets start at $23.

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