Good vision in low light is essential to enjoying
, which Momix brought to the Annenberg Center last weekend. The gloam can hide the scraps and bits that would make the piece seem magical.
But for those with healthy peepers, Alchemia is a brilliant journey into a surreal otherworld where earth, water, air, and fire - in the form of dancers, music, lighting, and props - do their thing.
Moses Pendleton, choreographer of the "Doves of Peace" segment of the Sochi Olympics' opening ceremony, is the "Mo" in Momix. His company presents work from unusual, often wacky, sometimes genius points of view. But Alchemia is exceptionally refined, moving smoothly from one vignette to the next, dancers slipping in and out of slits in the backdrop, all the messy tape and wires hiding in the dusky blackness.
From the opening moment when a fish "swam" across the stage to a red cloth that dancers manipulated into licks of flames, the piece was captivating. Lights formed shapes in the dark, clearly moved by a number of dancers - but how many? Large poles that stood on the stage like sea grass as the fish went by turned into a frame with a dancer at each corner. They wore the poles like sleeves, and changed the shape through precise timing.
Pairs of men held women who swung higher and higher, pumping their legs as though on a playground. In another vignette, women seemed to float across the stage, their tiny steps hidden by long skirts, like the angel scene in Balanchine's Nutcracker.
The sheer physicality of Alchemia is breathtaking. The music is given very detailed credits in the program: 17 pieces, including some played by cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the Ennio Morricone's score for the 1986 film The Mission.
Momix has a few local connections. Dancer Jerrica Blankenship graduated from the University of the Arts and worked with BalletX and Brian Sanders' JUNK. Pendleton has an honorary doctorate from UArts, where he gave the keynote speech at the 2010 commencement.
Alchemia's Philly run has ended, but Momix visits the Annenberg every few years. Meanwhile, keep an eye out for the first company Pendleton co-founded, Pilobolus, which will be in Philadelphia next year. It is no less wondrous.