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Surreal Pilobolus returning to S.L.

Troupe rearranges program to suit each of its audiences

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Pilobolus dancers assume a circular form during a performance at the Joyce Theater in New York.

Pilobolus dancers assume a circular form during a performance at the Joyce Theater in New York.

John Kane, The Joyce Theater

When Pilobolus goes on tour, the directors look closely at what pieces from the current repertoire will give audiences a well-rounded idea of what the dance company is about.

"If we are going to a place where we've performed before, like Salt Lake City, we try to bring new works," said Robby Barnett, who is co-artistic director with Michael Tracy and Jonathan Wolken. "We have a lot of options, because we've been around for 35 years. Currently, we have seven dancers and 20 active pieces in our rep."

Speaking by phone from his office in Connecticut, Barnett explained that pieces are shifted to keep each performance interesting for both the audience and the dancers. "We look at whether or not a piece is light in nature or has a darker palate. We look at how the works go together and what technical aspects need to be addressed. Those include the lighting, the costumes and length of the work."

Pilobolus last performed in Salt Lake City as part of the 2002 Cultural Olympiad during the Winter Games. But there has been a long-standing relationship with Utah, as the company has frequently brought its surreal form of dance through the state over the past 20 years.

This year, "Aquatica" (2005), a solo from "Empty Suitor" (1980), "Gnomen" (1997), "Memento Mori" (2006) and "Day Two" (1980) are on the schedule.

"We were commissioned by the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, Calif., to do 'Aquatica"' said Barnett. "We premiered it in front of the shark tank. The work is obviously inspired by the sea."

Back in 1980, Pilobolus was commissioned to create a work for the Cultural Olympiad in Lake Placid, N.Y. "We did 'Empty Suitor.' And we're performing a solo from that work. It's one of the lighthearted works in our rep. And it's slapstick, with elements of Buster Keaton."

"Gnomen" will close the first half of the evening, said Barnett. "We had retired this work a few years ago and recently reactivated it. It is a men's quartet and very physical."

The second half of the evening will start off with "Memento Mori." "This work is a combination of sorts of elements that seem to appear in our other works, such as 'Gnomen,"' said Barnett. "It does feature some slapstick, but it is also a look at life and how it needs to be cherished."

Wrapping up the production is one of Pilobolus' epics — "Day Two." "This is one of the company's classic works. It's an exploration of the creation of existence, with music by Brian Eno and the Talking Heads' David Byrne.

"When we were discussing these works for the program, we wanted to figure out where our company stands with Utah at this time. We want the audience to explore things that are new."

Barnett said the dancers like to challenge themselves. "The challenge of being in a company that is 35 years old and has a reputation like we do is to continue doing something we like. The pressure of making sure the works are up to par with our company is set upon our own shoulders.

And I have found that the more constraints we put upon ourselves, the more freedom we have. If we confine ourselves to a guideline, we can find many different ways to work within its boundaries."

Note: According to the Kingsbury Hall press release, the performance may contain some nudity.

If you go ...

What: Pilobolus

Where: Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. 300 South

When: Friday and Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

Cost: $32.50-$49.50

Phone: 581-7100 or 355-2787 or 888-451-2787

Web: kingsburyhall.com or arttix.org

E-mail: scott@desnews.com