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TDE Asks Moses Pendleton, Founder & Artistic Director of MOMIX, about the Return of "Opus Cactus" to The Joyce Theater After 12 Years

TDE Asks Moses Pendleton, Founder & Artistic Director of MOMIX, about the Return of "Opus Cactus" to The Joyce Theater After 12 Years
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By Sammi Sowerby / Follow on Instagram
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Published on June 26, 2017
TOTEMS 2. Photo courtesy of MOMIX.

WHO: Moses Pendleton, Founder & Artistic Director of MOMIX

WHAT: Opus Cactus, a celebration of the landscape of the American Southwest, transports audiences from their everyday lives to a fantasy world through its trademark use of magical lighting and imagery. Pendleton combines athletic dance, riveting music, outrageous costumes, inventive props and pure talent to create an entertaining multimedia experience.

WHERE: The Joyce Theater, 175 8th Ave, New York, NY

WHEN: June 27 – July 16, 2017


Sammi Lim for The Dance Enthusiast: Your first forays into entertainment involved exhibiting your family’s dairy cows at county fairs, which goes to show that a passion for the performing arts can stem from any background. 

Moses Pendleton, Founder and Artistic Director of MOMIX: I was a blue-ribbon cowographer. It was show business, in a sense, but I wouldn’t call it entertainment. The judges and onlookers were assessing the potential economic value of your livestock. My father taught me how to get a calf to “lead,” as we say, and I practiced every day in a special paddock in order to learn how to show off their best points. Then came the Caledonia County Fair and even the Eastern States Exposition with breeders from all over the country. I was 12 years old and wore white clothes with a white paper hat. I performed a kind of pas de deux in the ring with our best calves.

Moses Pendleton, Founder and Artistic Director of MOMIX.

TDE: What was the first performance that set the bar for you with regard to ‘fantasy dance’?

MP: One of our first Pilobolus performances was warming up a rock concert for Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention at Smith College in October, 1971. We had just graduated from Dartmouth and were just putting our first show together. The presenter asked us to do the 10-minute dance that had been our first piece of student choreography. We came out on stage as three men in head-to-toe leotards, one wearing aviator goggles, and we performed this strange, kaleidoscopic body-sculpture dance to an electronic score. At first there were catcalls, then silence, and at the end 3,000 screaming Smithies. Zappa called it “the theater of the very far out” and asked us to open for him in Omaha the following night, which we couldn’t do. The next day we asked ourselves, “What just happened?” Fantasy and reality had come together in a realm that was not modern dance.

TDE: Why did you found MOMIX in 1980 despite Pilobolus’s success since 1971? What gap does the former fill?

MP: There was no gap, just a sense of my own need to be independent after nine years as part of a collective organism. I needed new chemistry and more artistic control. It was a natural evolution. Pilobolus is still performing the early work we did together.

SUN DANCE starring Jennifer Chicheportiche.

TDE: Was it a trip to the American southwest or merely the romantic notion of its wilderness that inspired Opus Cactus?

MP: The Arizona Ballet had invited me to do a piece for them and asked that I use Native American themes. I originally thought I’d do a sunflower dance based on a Lakota myth, but when I arrived in Phoenix, I went past the edge of town and experienced nightfall in the Sonoran Desert. The saguaro cactuses slowly coming into silhouette with their arms raised, the clear light, the desert colors and the animals coming to life as night fell – it was like an initiation. It was March and it had rained not long before, so the cactuses were blooming, too, which they don’t do every year (but did again this year). I made a 20-minute piece for the ballet, then expanded it for MOMIX, and included other deserts as well, with music to match (aboriginal and Arabic, as well as Native American).

TDE: Why the twelve-year hiatus of Opus Cactus from NYC?

MP: Well, we’ve done five other shows at the Joyce in the meantime, so there’s been no MOMIX hiatus. But now, after 12 years, Opus Cactus is ready for new audiences.

TDE: Besides the Gila monster, what other real or imagined creatures will the audience encounter in Opus Cactus?

MP: Many, and not all of them have names. But you might recognize a cactus wren, a sidewinder, various skittering insects, as well as tumbleweeds and, of course, saguaros made of multiple bodies.

GILA MONSTER starring Steven Ezra.

TDE: Who's behind the dreamy/nightmarish costumes? How large is the costume design team?

MP: Cynthia Quinn and I work with Phoebe Katzen to design the costumes. And they’re not simply costumes – they’re wearable imagery.

TDE: The Dance Enthusiast is a huge proponent of audience reviews. In fact, we received a review of MOMIX in Alchemia at The Joyce Theater in 2015. What are your sentiments on feedback?

MP: First of all, I want to compliment the reviewer on a well-written piece. She says that she was sometimes overwhelmed by what she calls the “non-dance-related elements” of the piece that she reviewed – that is, the props, costumes, and lighting effects. She wanted more ”raw beauty” of dancers dancing. I would reply that I often use dancers to compose a theatrical, often visual, world on stage. There is a lot of physical movement – a lot of dance, I would say – but it’s part of a mix. I come from the Loie Fuller-Alwin Nikolais line of American dance – the body extended and transformed with fabric, props and lighting. You may not have a “modern dance” experience with MOMIX, but hopefully you will have an experience.

MORNING STARS starring Jennifer Chicheportiche, Catherine Jaeger, Rebecca Rasmussen, Amanda Hulen and Jenna Marie Graves.


The Dance Enthusiast Asks Questions and Creates Conversation.
For more of The Dance Enthusiast Asks, click here. To read the 2015 audience review of MOMIX click here
Share your #AudienceReview of this performance or others for a chance to win a $75 giftcard to Trader Joe's. 


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