Friday, April 20, 2012

The Beat of the Pilobolus Dancers

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The other night I saw a rerun of the Oprah show featuring the Pilobolus dancers, an international dance troupe from Connecticut. She was fascinated by them as they performed for the Oscars, shadow dancing to interpret the nominated films.  The fusion of dance, physics, theatre and even physical chemistry was breathtaking to watch. It is human creativity and ingenuity at its finest. And I watched them perform live! Well, rehearse actually (which I think was even better). I met some of them at their home base in Connecticut to interview one of their Filipina members (courtesy of Perla Daly). Sadly she is no longer part of the group. I think she retired to marry a Frenchie.

Below is the article I wrote about her back in 2004 for the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Reading it again, I marvel at how much my writing has changed. It also reminds me how blessed I am to be given a job that allows me to experience the world’s wonders in such a way...and dance to its beat.

Unique dancers find a different kind of dance theater 
published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer

With Macavinta and Perla Daly of

As she walked in the cafe in the little town of Washington Depot, her gait revealed that she is a professional dancer. Her small but sturdy frame had an air of confidence and grace. She wore a long-sleeved black leotard and a sarong-like skirt wrapped around her tiny waist. Her long black hair was tied in a loose bun to reveal an unmistakable dusky Filipina countenance.

In that small obscure town of Connecticut where some trees are pink and the people have snow white skin and apple red cheeks, she had found her place in the sun. Jennifer Macavinta is one of the privileged six who dance for the Pilobolus Dance Theater. The Pilobolus Dance Theater is an American dance company that combines physics with art.

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Pilobolus is a modern dance that incorporates movement, theater and physics. Each performance is a different story that displays an interesting mix of humor, beauty, art, improvisation, expression and mystery. According to Macavinta, Pilobolus is not ballet. It's not gymnastics or acrobatics and neither is it theater but everything combined. In short, it's a class of its own.

Class of its own

The company is a small team of four artistic directors and six dancers. Not much in number but their impact captivates hundreds of awed audiences worldwide. From Washington Depot, Connecticut where the company is based, the group travels cross-country and across the globe traipsing and pirouetting their way into audiences' hearts.

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Widely raved, the Pilobolus Dance Theater has been awarded with the Primetime Emmy Award, the Berlin Critic's Prize, the Brandeis Award, the Scotsman Award and the Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award just to name a few.

Standing out, blending in

The art of Pilobolus lies not in the movements alone. Part of the essence comes from the performers themselves, how they look and how they blend in together. A visual treat, the company of six is an interesting mix of cultures and colors. "You have to have an interesting look," emphasizes Macavinta. "You have to be aesthetically pleasing somehow but not necessarily like the way most dancers would look."

The petite Filipina stood out in the company but interestingly, she blended in nicely as well with the brawny guy in long dreadlocks, the willowy blond and the tall athletic brunette. There are only four men and two women in the company with exotic names like Mark Fucik, Andy Herro, Renee Jaworksy, Cleotha Mcjunkins III, Manelich Minniefee, Matthew Thornton and Jennifer Macavinta. All have different unique backgrounds and histories.

Macavinta in action

"It's all connected, the shapes, the bodies, the costumes and the colors," Macavinta further explains. The look of the members, for example, compliments and contrasts with each other in an interesting way. According to Macavinta, the company sometimes prefers to have one light-haired woman and one dark-haired woman. But it's not the same all the time.

When one of the members left, the company replaced him with somebody who looked entirely different. The company doesn't necessarily require a specific look. It's how a member blends in and at the same time stands out by bringing in an interesting twist to the group. "You just have to have your own flavor," says the only Asian in the group.


The dancers themselves collaborate on choreographing, dancing, managing and publicizing their own programs. On a typical rehearsal day, you would see the dancers exploring new moves while music played on. Sometimes it becomes play as they experiment and discover new things. Macavinta actively contributes to the choreography and usually shows her colleagues the new routines.

The Pilobolus Dancers stretching their limbs at their home base in Connecticut.

"We experiment across the board with everything," says Macavinta. Finding inspiration from almost anywhere, the dancers usually start with the music. "Pilobolus marries music and movement together." On one occasion they choreographed a piece with Bjork (a European contemporary singer) playing in the background. After the dance was completed, Bjork was replaced with another song resulting to a refreshing performance. "It changes the way we move but it's the matter of the process of how we got to that point. We just layer it by finding inspiration from anywhere really."


There is no cookie-cut school where you can train for Pilobolus. The team members are from different schools of movement. Some had martial arts background. Others were into ballet or jazz. The rest of them didn't even do dancing till later.

"The way people get into the company is a mystery because there are four directors and when they audition they're not looking for somebody who is a perfect technician," shares Macavinta. "You have to be interesting. You have to be able to think of 25 solutions to a problem. You have to be open and also you have to be able to know how to bend when somebody else is saying 'Oh, I can't do it this way.' " Teamwork oriented, members should be able to get along with the other people in the group.

poetry of life, light, and limbs

The company is on the look-out for people with a passion for dance and an open-mindedness for improvisation and creativity. And because Pilobolus is partly theater, dancers should know how to act. Also, strength comes into play. Since Pilobolus is an art of physics, fitness, flexibility and agility are required.
Performing several times in a year, the dancers only get two weeks off. After a tour, they get back to the studio to rehearse and create new pieces. The dancers are required to have downtimes so as not to burn out. This means doing something totally different from Pilobolus. Macavinta does yoga and swimming to relax.

While a lot of stretching is required, working out is not necessary. Macavinta claims that they burn enough calories from their routines. In fact, everybody loses weight in his or her first year in the company.

Reaching out

Aside from the privilege of being a part of a highly heralded dance company, there are also other perks. Macavinta claims the pay is very gratifying. According to Macavinta, most ballet dancers in New York rehearse knowing that in all probability, they won't get paid. Pilobolus takes care of its people. And unlike other dance companies, Pilobolus dancers enjoy basic benefits like dental and medical insurance.

But more than the tangible benefits, the dancers relish the satisfaction of being able to express themselves through their bodies and through movement. Pilobolus for them is also family. "I love the company so much. It's such an interesting mix. A very (tightly) knit group," shares Macavinta. She also loves performing for the kids. "They just love it. They're expecting some boring cultural performance then they realize they can laugh."

It is because of these pleasures that the Pilobolus dancers strive to come up with quirky, inspiring, and sometimes even spiritual pieces to entertain people. Pilobolus is a name of a fungus that shoots its spores up to eight feet high. Much like the fungus from which the theater was named after, the Pilobolus Dance Theater continues to stretch out their limbs and their minds day to day to reach out and touch people.


This is awesome! I think they're even better than cirque de soliel because their bodies and identity are part of the presentation and the performance.

love this, Candy!! I'm gonna feature this at the in the links library and Facebook page. BTW, please join and add your blog there. Here's a video on how Ingats! :)

wow thanks Perla! Yes, please post this on's FB page. I can use the added exposure :) It's actually one of my most viewed articles when people search for info about the pilobolus dancers.

will definitely join!

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