Pilobolus World Premiere at Dartmouth

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Dance troupe collaborates with graphic novelist Art Spiegelman

The internationally renowned dance theater company Pilobolus returns to Dartmouth’s Hopkins Center for the Arts June 24 through 26 with a world premiere of Hapless Hooligan in “Still Moving,” a Hop co-commissioned collaboration between Michael Tracy ’73, one of Pilobolus’ artistic directors, and Pulitzer-Prize-winning graphic novelist Art Spiegelman.

A scene from the Pilobolus & Art Spiegelman collaboration "Hapless Hooligan in Still Moving" (photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

This is the seventh work the Hop has commissioned or co-commissioned from Pilobolus, which began in 1971 at Dartmouth as a project in Alison Becker Chase’s beginner’s modern dance class.

Starring a character inspired by the circa-1900 wordless cartoon strip Happy Hooligan, the work integrates live dancing—at times in silhouette behind a screen, a trademark Pilobolus technique—and animated projections based on Spiegelman’s drawings. The work is set to ’20s and ’30s Warner Brothers cartoon music, marching band selections, clarinet solos and more—all drawn from Spiegelman’s expansive musical collection.

The story tells of a hapless Everyman who travels to the Underworld to seek the love who earlier abandoned him. Readers of Spiegelman’s acclaimed 2004 graphic novel In the Shadow of No Towers will recognize Hapless Hooligan as one of many old-time cartoon characters the novel’s narrator morphs into as he reacts to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

A scene from the Pilobolus & Art Spiegelman collaboration "Hapless Hooligan in Still Moving" (video still by Martin Grant)

The work is the latest in a series of diverse collaborative projects Pilobolus has made with such artists as the Israeli choreographic team Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak, the remarkable American puppeteer Basil Twist, and the lead writer for the popular animated series SpongeBob SquarePants Steven Banks.

At the Hop, Hapless shares the program with four other works. Redline, a 2009 Dartmouth-commissioned work, explores the beauty and futility of physical battle. It was created by the late Jonathan Wolken ’71, a Pilobolus co-founder and artistic director who passed away on June 13, 2010, following a long illness. The 2007 Rushes is an astonishing, dream-like combination of virtuosic movement and digital projections, created by artistic director Robby Barnett ’72 and Pinto and Pollak. Symbiosis, a 2001 male-female duet that’s part-Darwin, part-love story, traces the development of the relationship of two sinuously entwined creatures. The seminal Pilobolus creation Walklyndon, originally dreamed up in 1971 on a squash court in Lyndonville, Vt., is a silent dance that colorfully explores slapstick and vaudeville.

Hapless is the Hop’s second theatrical project with Spiegelman. In 2001 the Hop provided developmental support for a musical produced by Spiegelman titled Drawn to Death.

Note: These performances are currently sold out except for some ticket holds that, if unpurchased, will be released to the public at 1 p.m. on Thursday, June 24, for that day’s performance. Friday and Saturday’s holds will be released on Friday, June 25, at 1 p.m. (Phone and window sales will be accepted.) The Hopkins Center Box Office phone number is (603) 646-2422.

By Rebecca Bailey