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A CurtainUp Review
Opus Cactus

opus cactus
Caravan, which cncludes Part 1 of Opus Cactus (Photo by Charles Azzopardi)
Modern dance hasn't been the same since Moses Pendleton brought his unique vision to the Pilobulus Dance Theater in 1971. His inventiveness took another leap forward when he founded MOMIX and with a troupe of amazingly super-limber dancer-illusionists began to create works with a heavy reliance on athleticism, props and lighting that transcended dance to become an amalgam of dance, circus and silent musical theater.

Cactus Opus which was created for the Arizona Ballet Company is one of Pendleton's most successful works. If you missed this mesmerizing multimedia work when it was last done at the Joyce Theater twelve years ago, you're in luck. Cactus Opus is back at the Joyce through July 16th.

The nineteen varied scenes reflect Cactus Opus's beginnings with the Arizona Ballet since every scene depicts another aspect of Pendleton's vision of the vast Southwest landscape. Different as each sequence is, all are connected in mood, style and the underscoring by the lighting and the exotic, multi-sourced music and lighting.

The eye-popping, flickering images of the opening "Desert Storm" segue into the lovely "Cactus Wren/Mornng Star." In it a solo dancer, bathed in intense red light, is joined by several others to pave the way for the panoramic spectacle of transformations to follow.

Those transformations are chockablock with dazzling dance fantasies, all atmospherically lit and other mind-boggling ways the interlaced dancers create the illusion of a single image. Given the overarching desert setting, these images include strange but fascinating, limb-mingling creatures running the gamut from slithery, skittery animals to gigantic, scary monsters.

The props used to add to the variety of what we see include skateboards that have groups of dancers racng back and forth. If I had to pick my own favorite it would be the "The Pole Dance" that has three male dancers doing a stunning slow-motion version of an Olympic athletic competition. The second part's "Sun Dance" makes effective use of giant fans.

If there's any downside to all this mind-boggling display of disconnecting and reconnecting arms, legs and torsos , it's that there are occasional moments when, even the incredible physical virtuosity can't avoid an occasional scene that feels a bit repetitious. And, atmospheric as the lighting is, it comes at the cost of a close look at the dancers' facial expressions. But these are minor quibbles for Momix fans, and anyone who's never seen their truly one-of-a-kind choreography.

Watching this ensemble's extraordinary agility may well make you wish to limber up a bit yourself. A good idea . . . especially since the Joyce has scheduled two master class sessions in which Momix member Jennifer Chichpartich will be teaching some of the company's techniques. Each class is $20 and you can sign up on line:
Opus Cactus Sequenes
Part One
Desert Storm
Cactus Wren/Morning Stars
Pole Dance
Desert Blooms
Ostrich of the Imagination
Prickly Pear
Black Mesa
Gila Dance
Tracking the Earth
Part Two
    Dream Catcher
    Sun Dance
    Big Pole Dance
    Fire Walker
    First Contact

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Opus Cactus
Conceived and Directed by Moses Pendleton
Associate Director: Cynthia Quinn
Costume Design: Phoebe Katzin
Lighting Design: Joshua Starbuck and Moses Pendleton
Puppet Design: Michael Curry
Sculpture Design: Alan Boeding
Stage Manager:Jeffrey Main Dancers: Anthony Boccini, Beau Campbell, Samantha Chiesa, Greg Dearmond, Steven Ezra,Lauren Jaeger, Sarah Nachbauer, Matt Ortner, Rebecca Rassmussen, Jason Williams
Running Time: Approx: 1 hour and 40 minutes with 1 20-minute intermission
Joyce Theater 175 Eighth Avenue
From 7/27/17; closing 7/16/17 Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 7/29/17 performance

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