Inbal Pinto & Avshalom Pollak Dance Company
Philadelphia, Annenberg Center
9 February 2012
Kudos to Artistic Director Randy Shwartz for including Inbal Pinto & Avshalom Pollak Dance Company’s surreal circus, Oyster, in the Dance Celebration’s ‘Out of this World’ series at the Annenberg Center – it’s a pearl of a piece. Oyster is always what you expect Cirque du Soleil to be, but rarely is. Without apparatus, or specialty international acts, what this troupe of eight dancers and four character performers create really gives Cirque a run for their theatrical money.
Oyster has a noir subtext and, like Fellini’s La Strada, is a vérité mix of circus arts, mime, acrobatics and insight into a hidden world that funhouse-mirrors society. The arresting stage pictures full of desiccated Pierrot garb, moldy tuxes or fetishista tutus, just keep coming, but this is a mystery set in the shadow-within-shadow world of the circus.
The amazing Rina Rosenbaum is the Beckettesque, hideously-coiffed ring-leader, popping through holes in the wall, pushing people around, or cueing the bizarre human circus.
Among the many memorable moments: two men are conjoined in a suit-stack standing ten feet and hover around; when they aren’t involved in head-and-hand antics they are off to the side editorializing other performers.
A ballerina-line of women in powdery gauze wraps turns into a hilarious shimmy to a Mambo novelty song from the 40s. A male partner enters and one of the dancers steps out for a furious Astor Piazzolla tango with the dancers vanishing and reappearing in dizzying extremes.
A woman appears in flaming orange pig curls with black turtle-neck dress that covers half of her face and black demi-pointe shoes with ribbons racing up her leg. A good look, and when she is not executing fabulous footwork she has a seat on a stool that is attached to her rear.
Three men in tails with their arms constricted are still able to vault gorgeous extended jetes. Such ridiculous dances are more than tricks, the bizarreness astounds; just as circus acrobats dazzle with sleights of body, these dancers are building characters in the way that physical theater troupes strive for.
Pinto and Pollak build the physical comedy out of the music – from Tommy Dorsey, classical, to vaudeville sound effects. Movement that completely characterizes the music, as you might see in old cartoons.
The commitment of this troupe in Oyster is a dazzling high-wire act grounded in technique, precision and inspired zaniness whose theatrical DNA goes back to commedia dell’arte, buffoons and street acrobats that morphed into circus arts. This Inbal Pinto piece is a classic for all time.