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Breaking boundaries: Dance group Pilobolus returns to Chautauqua for residency

The morning began with a brisk walk of mostly strangers weaving between each other, sometimes making eye contact or observing the natural sway in another’s knees or hips.

Then the dancers began moving laterally, then backward and then — freeze. The pace quickened. The ceiling shrunk; the dancers crouched.

“This is how Pilobolus breaks personal space boundaries very early in the morning,” dancer Jacob Warren said as he corralled two dozen attendees between two ballet barres the dreary morning of Aug. 13 in the Carnahan-Jackson Dance Studios.

After the barres were moved and the dancers filled the studio again, they paired up to practice weight sharing; they’d stand toe-to-toe, linking arms and slowly pulling away from one another until they were able to squat, sit and stand up again, using only the tension and leverage in their arms.   

That was just a glimpse into the modern dance company’s everyday warm-up routine.

During Pilobolus’ residency during Week Eight — encoring an impactful debut last season — Chautauquans were able to experience the company’s innovation and eccentricity firsthand through a series of master classes, open rehearsals and warm-ups, culminating in an informal showing of new works.

“Pilobolus fell in love with Chautauqua so much (last year) as a place that fosters art, that they requested to come back and be in residency,” said Deborah Sunya Moore, vice president of performing and visual arts. “They simply (workshopped).”

Pilobolus —  a name derived from a light-loving fungus, whose spores accelerate to up to 45 miles per hour in flight — began in a Dartmouth College dance composition class; it has since gone on to perform on Broadway, at the Oscars, the Olympic Games and has created over 120 works. The company is currently preparing for its 50th anniversary season to take place in 2020-21.  — Maggie Prosser

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