Stow away your screens, sit up in your seat and pay close attention ‒ Pilobolus has a very important message for you. The northwestern Connnecticut-based dance company asks audiences to “Come to Your Senses” ‒ its latest touring show appearing at Keene’s Colonial Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 22.
The multisensory experience features live performances of Pilobolus works alongside digital creations, which together explore the connection between the human body and the analog world around us. The seed of the idea for the show started with The Five Senses Festival in 2018, a week of art, music, dance, nature, food, ideas, activities and conversation the company hosts on its home turf in Connecticut.
“We were talking about how it’s so important for people to get out of their homes and off their computers and experience live performance in the flesh,” said Renée Jaworski, Pilobolus co-artistic director alongside Matt Kent. “You can smell sweat, hear music in different ways, feel the body heat of the person sitting next to you, feel that stranger’s compassion that touches them that may not touch you. You’re surrounded by a different energy [with live performance]. You leave differently than having seen it on video.”
Part dance, part acrobatics, this internationally renowned company was created at Dartmouth College in Hanover in 1971. The hallmark of a Pilobolus performance is the dancers’ athleticism, seeming to break all rules of physical ability.
“Come to Your Senses” is a retrospective of the past 20 years (Jaworski has been with the company since 2000), broken down into several pieces created during that time.
Kent, who has been with the company about five years longer than Jaworski, created the show’s oldest piece, “Gnomen,” a quartet for men. (A gnomen is the upright element of a sundial that casts a shadow to tell time.)
According to Jaworski, “it shows all different ways you see a relationship with another man ‒ brotherly, friendly, compassionate and loving.”
The group’s newest piece, “Branches,” premiered in 2018 at Jacob’s Pillow, a Massachusetts dance school and performance space that commissioned the piece.
“It’s a dialogue with nature,” Jaworski said. A pilobolus is a fungus with a transparent stalk and balloon-like tip that acts as a lens; dancers who live in the rural Connecticut and Berkshires region of Massachusetts, she noted, have always been drawn to such nature for inspiration. “Branches” was inspired by an early spring walk the dancers took in Washington, Conn.
“They walked 10 feet away from each other, with no phones ‒ just them and nature,” Jaworski said. “We asked them to just experience and notice what we miss every day: the crunch of leaves, the sound of dropping water, the smell of decay. There’s so much process going on in the world that is beautiful.”
The result is a piece with no props, little clothing and lots of abstract movement.
Other pieces in “Come to Your Senses” include “On the Nature of Things,” a piece in the show created in 2014 that is a trio based on the story of the Garden of Eden featuring three dancers on a platform that is three feet in diameter and three feet off the ground; and “Symbiosis,” a sensual male-female duet that traces the birth of a relationship between two creatures intertwined.
The videos that accompany each piece feature everything from retro scientific experiments to a montage of amorphous images that slowly take shape into recognizable forms.
The central mission of Pilobolus is to make art accessible to everyone.
“You don’t need to know the history of modern dance to enjoy a Pilobolus performance,” Jaworski said. “Let the emotions wash over you, let it touch you, let it make you think of things that happen in everyday life.”
She views this show not only as entertainment and a conversation stimulator but also a call to action.
“Everybody in the world should come to their senses,” she said.
Pilobolus performs “Come to Your Senses” on Saturday, Feb. 22, at 8 p.m. at the Colonial Theatre, 95 Main St., Keene. Tickets range from $35 to $49 and can be ordered by calling (603) 352-2033 or by visiting www.thecolonial.org. Dancers in the show will do a meet-and-greet with the audience after the show.