Pilobolus Returns to the Granada

By Steven Libowitz   |   January 25, 2018

When your company is named after a fungus that grows on cow poop, clearly you’re involved with an outfit that loves playfulness as well as metaphors. Pilobolus formed at Dartmouth back in 1971 but has grown more explosively than its light-seeking namesake, now numbering more than 120 dance works in its repertoire, including three entities that interchangeably tour, create, and perform everywhere from on Broadway, to the Oscars, to TV commercials and corporations. Along the way, they’ve received rave reviews for astonishing physical feats seamlessly married to emotionally stirring themes along with more than a dollop of humor.

Pilobolus returns to the Granada Theatre on Sunday night, January 28, sporting not only two brand-new pieces – including a new collaboration with banjo greats Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn – plus an older one with magicians Penn & Teller, but also several interstitial movies and opening and closing themes to keep the evening flowing. Creative director Mark Fucik, who danced for years with the company before moving up the ranks, talked about the history, methods, and current repertoire over the phone last week.

Q. Pilobolus has been a very collaborative project since it began. Can you explain how a dance gets created?

A. The artistic directors and I sit down and kick around ideas that can come from anywhere. Then we share it with the dancers. But we don’t create it. All the movement comes from them, their artistic impulses and skills at improvisation. We just tell them what we are looking for and get them moving, then see what we can cultivate from the movements they’ve created. Sometimes we don’t even have an idea. We just put on music that has a feel we’d like to explore. And then we look for the connections that happen emotionally or physically between the dancers as they move and pull ideas from that. It grows organically, with the movement threads made through the collective of all the people in the room. It’s not the most efficient way to make dance, but it’s rewarding.

The company has also done a great deal of collaborating with non-choreographers. How does that work?

We’re drawn to artists who have active imaginations, especially people from outside our field. We even want our dancers to be well-rounded and from different backgrounds. Otherwise, you’re missing things that are absolutely fascinating, like interpreting drones and robotics at MIT through dance. We’ve worked with visual artists, using the body as paint, and writers to take the words and make it a live medium. In essence, choreography is trying to answer questions. Even from outside our world, we find the answers through movement.

It seems the focus is always on the human body, moving in concert with other ones – meaning it’s as much about relationship as it is about individual movement.

Yeah, for me it’s all about relationship. I’m interested in what happens when you touch another person. What’s the connection? Even if it’s abstract. Any time you touch another body, a relationship is already created, even if it’s only the atmosphere rather than a deep emotional connection. For me, as much as dance is about form, and what you can do with your body, it’s also about the spirit and connection to each other.

Your community dance class (Saturday at noon at Santa Barbara Dance Arts) is for everyone. What’s the format?

It’s a crash course into how we create our work, our philosophy. There are things you can apply elsewhere beyond dance and movement – creative problem solving that’s the formula for how we make a dance. So, it’s also very much about the people who are there coming together and creating something as a group. It’s definitely not just for dancers.

Here’s Fucik’s comments about Friday’s program:

Branches: Here the question was “What can we do in an outdoor space looking at Adirondack mountains? How do you compete with that?” You don’t. You work with it, and have what we do be a part of the space. Watching Animal Planet, we saw that animals are beautiful and terrifying and absurdly funny. And we thought, wait, that’s kind of us! So, the dancers are embodying everything from animals to trees to what is, really, as corny as it sounds, the essence of life. At rehearsals, we had the dancers go out on three-hour hikes by themselves, just being quiet and reflective on what was around them and taking it in.

Echoes in the Valley: Abigail and Bela were in the studio with us, with both of us taking cues from each other. We had pairs interacting to the sounds they were making together, with them playing live as we improvised to the music, and the singing would influence the movement. And as we did something, they’d watch us and react. Bela would play a riff on a banjo and we’d respond, like a conversation, fueling each other. Eventually, there were a lot of discussions about what the songs meant and how to put it together. To me, it’s a very tender and theatrical piece.

(esc): People always call what we do magical, so we wanted to see if we could do actual magic on stage. Penn & Teller had the idea of escape, which Houdini made famous. When we perform it, the audience comes up on stage and builds the box. It’s a lot of fun, but also kind of scary, like a rollercoaster. It took a lot of rehearsal to make sure the dancers who perform it knew what they were doing.

Rushes: It’s a collaboration with these amazing choreographers from Israel. It follows a tight-knit group of people who are on a journey thru their memories. It’s a heartstring strummer – so beautiful but also awkward and out there, just like we are as humans.

Alan Parsons Live

When famed British progressive rocker and music producer Alan Parsons first booked his one-off show for Friday night, January 26, at the Chumash Casino, there was a clear purpose in mind. Get the new band together – the latest incarnation coming after the departure late last summer of Santa Barbara-based guitarist Alastair Greene in favor of pursuing his own solo blues career – play a live show, and then spend some time in his new state-of-the-art home studio fleshing out new material.

The Thomas Fire didn’t even put a big crimp into those plans. Parsons’s home since 2005 is located on an avocado orchard high up in the hills above the Bacara Resort in western Goleta, far enough from the flames that they never even received an evacuation warning and were able to handle the infrequent influx of smoke and ash. The Montecito mudslide, however, has caused a few wrinkles, with the freeway closure forcing those helping him put together the home studio having to take the long way round from L.A.

But Parsons knows that’s a trifle. A delay and inconvenience in constructing a home studio pales in comparison to losing your home, or worse yet, your life, as happened to so many in Montecito. And he’s cognizant of the tireless work put in by the firefighters and other first responders for both cataclysmic events. The concert has now been turned into a benefit, with all of the proceeds being donated to the first responders and victims of the twin tragedies.

“It affected a lot of people we know, friends in the area. The stories we heard were just horrific,” Parsons said last weekend after returning home from a meeting about the show. “These guys (firefighters) deserve an enormous amount of credit for what they have done to help.”

The 90-minute show at the Chumash will feature the first half of The Alan Parsons Project’s (APP) I Robot album, an early release from the outfit he formed after serving as an engineer on albums by The Beatles and most memorably Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, as well as producing such records as hugely successful Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat”. The Isaac Asimov-influenced classic marked its 40th anniversary last year, while December saw the release of a four-CD box set 35th Anniversary Collector’s Edition of the Projects’s Eye In The Sky, whose title track was Parsons’s biggest hit.

“It was fascinating to go back and hear all those old tapes and then re-produce the original recordings in Surround Sound,” said Parsons, who is also noted as an early and constant champion of high-quality equipment. “I’d happily update all of my albums if they want.”

Passages from the album have become pop culture touchstones, with airings at the Super Bowl and on myriad TV commercials. “It was never the intention to make it what it has become,” he said. “It’s just a piece of music I strung together in a studio in an office in my house. But of course, I’m delighted.”

Now there’s a new recording studio in his Santa Barbara house, where Parsons is planning to make the first new album under his name in years.

“Those are my roots. The recording studio is where I come from. I’m really looking forward to spending more time recording and less time on the road.”

Word is that the new record will feature musicians from the APP’s earlier incarnations, along with modern rock artists, and carry an internal theme as with the early albums. But Parsons is characteristically mum on the subject.

“It’s a concept album that’s written and ready to go. But I don’t want to talk about what the concept is. We always kept the details quiet, secret until almost the release date.”

As for his legacy, Parsons eschewed the hits for the equipment, and offered a suggestion.

“I’d like to be remembered for my opinions and contributions to high fidelity and creating a work with a quality of sound. That’s always been top of my list, more than the music itself. People should… enjoy music the right way, not on mp3s on the train. Spend money on a decent sound system and sit down and listen. It’s not background music.”

Flow, Flood, and Fire Fundraisers

The Alcazar Theatre in Carpinteria, formerly the Plaza Playhouse, has booked four straight nights of benefit concerts, and now that the 101 freeway has reopened, we all can get there pretty easily. Superstoked headlines the first of the foursome on Thursday, January 25 – which is actually the second in the Alacazar Rises series following Dishwalla’s show in early January – with Traveling Hurtados and Out Of The Blue also on the bill. South on Linden and The Youngsters share the stage on Friday night; Blown Over, afishnsea, and The Moon take over on Saturday; and Sunday brings a Dance Party with the Dusty Jugz, as the theater’s stage will be transformed into a dance floor. Each concert begins at 7:30 pm (7 pm on Thursday), with tickets set at $15. The proceeds are earmarked for local victims of the Thomas Fire. Call 684-6380 or visit www.facebook.com/alcazartheatre.

The Cal Strong concert this Sunday at SOhO, perhaps the first of a series, also supports victims of the Thomas Fire, as it was booked and confirmed just days before the torrential rain caused the flash flood and mudslide in Montecito. Ace Pro Music’s Nancy Singelman‘s lineup of local luminaries features Rachel Sedacca, Teresa Russell, The Tearaways, Smitty and Julija, Bruce Goldfish, the Contenders, Laura Cozzie and the Santa Barbara Strong band and Tantamount, though the roster is in flux. Items will also be up for silent auction during the 3 to 11 pm event. Admission is $25 general, $75 with dinner.

Back on the Schedule

The Grammy-winning stand-up comedian Lewis Black, whose ranting and raving at political perfidy and social screw-ups might be just the elixir for post-mudslide Montecito, has been rescheduled for the Lobero on Thursday, January 25…. Quire of Voyces’s canceled December concerts have been reconceptualized as “The Mysteries of Christmas: A Healing Concert for our Community”, in which music that soothes and heals will substitute for the traditional Christmas carols on the program. One show only at 3 pm on Sunday, January 28. Firefighters and other first responders admitted free.

Money for Mooy

Those of you who know John Mooy are aware of how beloved he is – as a guitar tech (undoubtedly you’ve heard local fans shouting out his name at concerts at the Bowl or Lobero when he trundles on stage to hand a freshly tuned instrument to Jackson Browne, Kenny Loggins, or David Crosby), music community connector, and all around good man. Then, last month, during the Thomas Fire, Mooy put on another hat, turning into perhaps the most intrepid and accurate reporter of the advancing flames, the evacuations, and smoke and ash alerts outside of KEYT’s John Palminteri (and I’m not even sure that exception applies), incessantly posting information and videos on Facebook about every detail and offering upbeat missives of love and support.

Then came January 9. In a cruel irony, Mooy and his longtime love, Nancy Soohoo Little Moon, managed to escape from her Montecito cottage when the mudslide and debris flow began, but lost their home, a car, and likely most of their possessions in the onslaught of debris. Despite it all, the Facebook posts continued, nearly always with a message of hope and love before the enormity of the emotional trauma took its toll. But barely hours after posting a complaint or two, Mooy was back on Facebook apologizing and back to expressing gratitude.

Now, Santa Barbara musicians Susan Marie Reeves and Jesse Rhodes have started a gofundme campaign (www.gofundme.com/disaster-fund-for-john-and-nancy) to aid the couple in their recovery. Do they deserve the help more than other victims who suffered even greater losses? You decide. But suffice it to say that within a few hours of the fund’s creation last Sunday evening, there were already 20 donors, including a lot of local musicians and the like. Perhaps you’ll add your name?


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