You’ve probably seen them even if you didn’t know it at the time.
Pilobolus, which formed in 1971, has performed at the Olympics, at the Academy Awards, “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and for audiences around the world. The modern dance troupe returns April 17 to The McAninch Arts Center at the College of DuPage.
Pilobolus is named after a barnyard fungus that propels its spores with extraordinary speed, accuracy and strength. The troupe’s performances are characterized by intense athleticism, physical interaction between the dancers and contortions requiring extreme strength and flexibility.
Dancer, choreographer and associate artistic director Renee Jaworski has been with Pilobolus for 14 years. She started as a dancer with the Pilobolus offshoot group, Momix, in 1994.
Luring audiences to see modern dance is tricky, she said. In the end, it’s about presenting them with something they can understand and making them look at it in a different way. Yet, there’s competition not just from other companies, but also from the fact that people can stay home and be entertained.
“I think the reason people still go to movies even though they can watch it in their living rooms is that it’s a shared experience,” Jaworksi said. “It’s about going to do something with people that share your interest. And the energy that’s created in a room when you’re watching something…everything gets to be a little more heightened, and your connection to the world becomes broader and you’re no longer alone in a room watching something, you’re in the world watching something. And that’s what are performances are about; making human connections, both onstage and off.”
Although the name is a mouthful to say, she is constantly hearing from people who have seen Pilobolus before and didn’t realize it.
“Even if they don’t know our name, they’ll go, ‘Oh, you’re the people who did the Oscars in 2007; those shadow people.’ ‘Oh, you were on Sesame Street in the ’70s. I totally remember that,’” Jaworski said. “They do make the connection and we do get that a lot.”
Pilobolus creates new work every year, and each year there are 18 to 25 pieces from which to create a program. McAninch Arts Center audiences can expect to see a mixture of old and newer works. There will be a dance called “Automaton,” which is a “take on technology and how it affects human connection and how it can work for us and against us.” The troupe worked with Trish Sie, a constant collaborator with the band OK Go, on a piece called “Skyscrapers” which uses OK Go music, the tango and lots of colors, according to Jaworski.
“It’s really fun and uses projection. It’s really visual and we put our Pilobolus twist on this video [Sie] has made,” Jaworksi explained.
Another dance they’ll perform, called “esc,” was created with magicians Penn and Teller, Jaworski said.
“We went to Vegas to work with them in their theater, and what they suggested to us was to do Houdini-inspired escape acts. Houdini was a showman, but he was so physical it matches the Pilobolus physicality. The escapes that we developed with them are all based on what our amazing dancers can do with their bodies. They’re strong, they’re limber, they’re agile; they’re witty and crafty as well. They can get out of these situations in ways that are surprising.”
A collaboration with Trish Sie and Jaworski is the new work called “Licks,” which makes use of ropes.
“The show has five pieces and it starts when you walk in the door,” Jaworski said. “The dancers are on stage and ready to converse in some way. It’s going to be a fun night.”
When: April 17
Where: McAninch Arts Center at College of DuPage, 425 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn
Contact: (630) 942-4000; AtTheMac.org