Moses Pendleton’s ‘Botanica’ is a beautiful nightmare at the Lisner Auditorium


MOMIX's ‘Botanica.’ (Max Pucciariello)
April 26

Choreographer Moses Pendleton must have some very strange dreams. Perhaps he wakes in the morning and thinks, “I know! A pas de deux for a gorgeous brunette and a triceratops!” How else do you explain the bizarre combinations of humanity, flora and fauna that populate “Botanica,” a 90-minute program of short works he’s created for his 33-year-old dance company, MOMIX?

Washington Performing Arts, CityDance and George Washington University co-presented Friday’s “Botanica” performance at the Lisner Auditorium. The show premiered in 2008 as a “best of” retrospective. That explains this hither-thither mix that featured the company’s ladies dressed as poufy-skirted poppies in one scene and the guys performing as neon jugglers in the next. Pendleton should have found ways to ease the flow between pieces; he has all sorts of special-effect bells and whistles at his disposal, and the stronger sections in the program would stand out more if he did.

Amid the beautiful mess of petals, fossils and feathers are two solos Pendleton created in 2007 for Russian ballerina Diana Vishneva’s touring show, “Beauty in Motion.” You’ve seen one piece, “Flow,” if you watched the closing ceremonies at the Sochi Olympics. Even the football commentators narrating for NBC were impressed when Vishneva donned a flowing skirt of streamers that extended out from her shoulders and rotated for minutes on end.

Amanda Hulen performed the “bead skirt dance” Friday and was a marvel to watch. A zillion precise demi-pliés are crucial to keeping the floating streamers level, and Vishneva does that better. Still, Hulen deservedly earned the most applause of the night. The audience then breathed a collective “Huh?” when a projection of a giant frog appeared on the backdrop and a male dancer emerged dressed as a giant snail.

The second Vishneva piece, “Mirror,” featured dancer Simona Ditucci reclining on a reflective panel, tilted at a 45-degree angle so that, like Narcissus, she appeared obsessed with herself. Extending an arm and leg, Ditucci was the stunning feminine equivalent of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. When, minutes later, she was astride a triceratops puppet that eventually would eat her alive, the choreography took a turn for the Cro-Magnon. What a nightmare. Yikes. MOMIX is best when Pendleton instead creates an elegant renaissance of illusionary art and dance.

Ritzel is a freelance writer.

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