A red-flecked helamonster scuttles out of the underbrush. A snake winds its way over golden desert sand. A Saguaro cactus raises its limbs to the blue sky as a wren circles overhead. Desert scenes like these are the inspiration for Opus Cactus, a visually arresting ballet that will run in Calgary and Edmonton this February.
Alberta Ballet presents the dancers of Cincinnati-based ballet company MOMIX in this limited run show which is an otherworldly fusion of acrobatics, poetry and visual majesty. Alberta Ballet’s artistic director Jean Grand-Maitre has been a passionate fan of MOMIX for decades. “This legendary company has seduced the world many times over with mind blowing antics and great beauty. They are la crème de la crème and their director, Moses Pendleton is a dance maker who stands among the very finest in American dance history.”
Momix is known internationally for its athletic choreography and innovative use of props, lighting and costume.
“I like to create the world not as reality, but as a fantasy, a dream, and hopefully not a nightmare,” laughs Moses Pendleton, founder and artistic director of MOMIX. His work repurposes dancer’s bodies to emulate flora, fauna, and shapes found in nature.
Opus Cactus takes audiences deep into the desert, where they transform into cacti, tumbleweeds and desert creatures. A series of striking vignettes moves to an eclectic mix of traditional First Nations and Arabic music, allowing Pendleton to combine far-flung deserts into one as the performance progresses.
Elaborate set pieces, costumes and lighting turn dance pieces into spectacles suitable for any and all audiences who wish to experience the magic of MOMIX in action.
“As an introduction for those unfamiliar with dance, there’s no beating MOMIX,” stresses Pendleton. His performances are events that require little knowledge of ballet technique or composition.
But ballet fans should take heart. The dancers are classically trained and able to perform highly technical solos as well as acrobatics for rapt audiences.
“From port de bras to arabesques, the ballet is there,” says Pendleton.
He cites one particular solo as a supreme example of ballet technique in action. A ballerina is transformed into a cactus wren, a desert-dwelling bird known for burrowing into cacti to make their home. The ballerina emerges from a cactus silhouette to perform a harrowing ballet solo, all while embodying this avian creature.
“Ballerinas must transcend their humanity to transform into a swan or silph – a thing of the imagination,” says Pendleton. MOMIX dancers are required to be as theatrical as they are technical.
The company’s had a lot of practice getting Opus Cactus right. The one hour and 20 minute production is an extension of a 20 minute piece commissioned by the Arizona Ballet 18 years ago. MOMIX has been performing the current version for the last seven years – a production The New York Times called “a feast for the eyes,” and “a sprawling luscious fantasy.”
The praise is welcomed, said Pendleton. He’s been capturing imaginations around the world for the last 40 years and has seen his work performed at the Paris Opera and Detsche Opera Berlin, among others.
He’s been featured in fawning television specials across France, Italy, and North America. He also choreographed a solo for the closing ceremonies of the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.
Including Opus Cactus, MOMIX’s repertoire includes seven productions, all inspired by natural wonders. Botanica pays homage to the flora of each season, while MOMIX’s newest Alchemia explores the elements.
Opus Cactus will appear as a limited run in Calgary from Feb. 15-17 (matinees inclusive). It will run in Edmonton from Feb. 21-22.
Tickets are available for purchase at Ticketmaster.ca.