Flowers blossom. Amoebas merge and divide. Sea creatures scuttle across the stage. Centaurs make a surprise appearance. And the human tribe turns up in good time, too.
MOMIX’s “Botanica,” at Meany Hall through Saturday, is a 90-minute cycle through the seasons, a fantasia of flora and fauna collaged together with creaturely humor and not too much concern for botanical-biological accuracy. (Never mind the centaurs — why is that woman trying to make that prancing dinosaur skeleton her playmate?)
The “dance-illusionist” world of MOMIX is the brainchild of Moses Pendleton, co-founder of Pilobolus. MOMIX is a little less dance-centered than Pilobolus tends to be, and in “Botanica,” the costumes (by Pendleton, Phoebe Katzin and Cynthia Quinn), lighting (Pendleton and Joshua Starbuck), puppets (Michael Curry) and props (Pedro Silva) have near-equal weight with the performers.
Former MOMIX dancer Jamie Johnson, in a lively preshow talk well worth catching, put it best when she said the dance is “always in service of that image you’re trying to create.”
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“Botanica” opens with a powerful image: of a snowfield in fierce winds where figures rise up only to be swept away. The illusion that 100 mph gusts are ripping across the stage is startlingly vivid.
After the blasts of winter come signs of life. Several of the show’s strongest passages are in its first half. The amoeba sequence is a marvel. Glowing in midair, they connect, disconnect and form larger composite creatures that grow in anatomy-defying and gravity-confounding ways.
You may think at times that you can tell how the blacked-out dancers are configured to create these luminous effects. But then the whole protean creature flies apart and reassembles itself in ways that would seem to require the dancers to blithely lose and juggle their limbs to pull it off. I have no idea how it’s done.
Not all of MOMIX’s trickery is done in the shadows. That dinosaur skeleton, which rears on its hind legs and swishes a fully articulated tail, is plainly visible. But the mechanics of how it operates — and how many performers are inside it — are mysterious. A strobe-lit passage where a dancer seems to multiply into three images of herself, which then levitate abruptly into the rafters, is just as inexplicable.
Other effects are less showy but as captivating. A solo performed on a slanted mirror creates all sorts of beguiling abstract shapes, before culminating in a magical disappearance.
Eventually pairs of dancers who look like dancers (rather than, say, flowers or bees) take the stage and engage in some acrobatic partnering with dabs of bona fide dance thrown in. Here’s where the show reveals a slight weakness. The execution is good enough, but the movement itself can feel generic. In its last half, the proceedings have a start-and-stop feel to them as well.
One last point: “Botanica” aims to be kid-friendly (ages 7 and up), but it could use a bit more tease as to what those birds, bees and centaurs get up to, exactly, in order to keep the circle of life going smoothly. Maybe just a sexy swagger or two?
As it is, the amoebas seem to be the only ones successfully reproducing.
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org