"I can't go a day without clicking my camera. Capturing the personalities in the flowers, capturing the personality of the ice that forms on the lake by my house...I see the dancers in those flowers and that ice."
Moses Pendleton, artistic director of the dance company Momix, is wired to the wilderness. Every day he goes for a swim in the lake by his house in Connecticut, cutting blades through the still water and tuning into the nature surrounding him. "I get my ideas when I'm moving. We have such a mechanized body now," said Pendleton during our interview this last weekend. "I wonder about how to keep it organic ... and whatever really turns you on, will become your next big thing."
From that personal journey, Pendleton created his dynamic and enchanting Botanica, an exploration of the four seasons, and now, Alchemia, his interpretation of the four elements. This darker, dreamy and spiritual show comes to the Winspear Opera House September 12 and 13.
Pendleton came to the idea for Alchemia as he was photographing and documenting the life cycle of the sunflower. He was interested in the mysterious and impressive way they transformed from a small seed, to a green stalk taller than most men, to a blooming flower and then to a shell of a being. That process, that mystery behind the biology of life, fascinated Pendleton and spurred his research and creative process.
Traditionally, the alchemist invokes the four elements -- earth, water, wind, and fire -- and the "elementals" -- the spirits that exist in each those four elements -- and Pendleton used that idea freely throughout the piece. "I started with a picture first, with the idea of life and fire and death, and then found the music that lived alongside these earthly beings, and then came to the movement. There is this great opportunity when you are creating to turn your own black thought into a golden opportunity."
It boils down to metamorphosis. Pendleton has a unique take on nature, the natural world, and its sense of transformation; specifically, he is interested in exploring the way that the human form connects to its non-human counterparts. In his dreams, he sees them blending together; in his photographs, he tracks their life cycles; in rehearsal, he watches the dancers become something more than human. "Our desires come from our unconscious, from the incredible dreams that we have, but did you create them? Where did they come from? These are questions that I ask myself, and I try to have them live on through the dance," he said.
In his search for the answers to his dreams, Pendleton threw himself into researching alchemical studies and the studio became a kind of laboratory for him, and his garden his muse. Like Monet -- whom Pendleton cites an inspirational source -- who grew what he painted and painted what he saw, Pendleton spends much of his time caring for and harvesting the flowers that he grows at his home, and creating pieces inspired by them. "The company comes over and spends time with the flowers, finding their soul in the soil. I find that they dance better if they help in the garden."
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That makes sense. The more intimately you know your subject, the more connected you will be with the material, and the more honest your transformation on stage will be. And with the proliferation of dance now -- from the boom of television shows based on the performing art, the number of dance companies popping up and the overwhelming support of young artists (I'm referring here to the national advertisements for YoungArts that began showing up on digital billboards across the area) -- honesty and transparency on stage is a necessity. For Pendleton, he is looking to our history for answers, and he is finding them in the theater. "The most important thing for dancers to know is about acting. That's what we focus on with Momix ... how can we create a show that is both a play and a dance? Can we make something that is other than human? That's what we're trying to get into...tap into that gold and bring it out."
He told me, very simply, one of the best pieces of advice that a master could pass down to a student, and it was this: "Don't fight what you can't control." He told me to always be moving forward, to keep working, and to focus on the future. That is his own personal mantra, because, when his working on future projects, his current work grows more full and explorative. He is able to see it all more clearly and take all the elements he is inspired by, combine them together, and cook it all up into what turns into an intriguing and unique piece of dance theatre; and the result of this labor of love is dance alchemy.
When asked what he would like the audience to take away from this show, Pendleton just chuckled. He can't predict what we will feel, and this show is unlike your traditional dance performance. It's something more. It's theater, it's dance, it's magic. "I've always said that with Momix, you should expect the unexpected," and Alchemia is a further exploration of Pendleton's special narrative touch. He just sets the scene, and we find the story ourselves. The show is a search for enlightenment. "It's a passage from darkness into light," Pendleton said, "change, like birth is not an easy process."
Friday, September 12 and Saturday, September 13 at 8 p.m. at the Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St., Dallas. $12-$135.