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Pilobolus Dance Theatre



The Pilobolus Dance Theater developed from a class project in Alison Becker Chase's beginner's modern dance class in 1971 at Dartmouth College. The founders of the group are Moses Robb Pendleton, Jonathan Wolken, and Steve Johnson, all members of the Dartmouth Class of 1971. Chase chose her students to represent Dartmouth for a symposium of modern dance in New York in 1971. Johnson chose to pursue a career in medicine upon graduating from Dartmouth, but he was replaced by Robby Barnett (Dartmouth 1972), Michael Tracy (Dartmouth 1973), and Lee Harris (Dartmouth 1973). The group officially became Pilobolus, named after a fungus grown in cow manure. Alison Chase and Martha Clarke joined the dance group as its first female members.

Pilobolus’ first touring performance was at Goddard College in late summer 1971. That fall they were the opening act at a Frank Zappa concert at Smith College, where they danced to music composed by Dartmouth professor Jon Appleton. They continued dancing on the college circuit, performing at Bennington, Middlebury, Hampshire, Goddard, and Dartmouth Colleges, as well as the University of Maine. Pilobolus debuted in New York at the Nikolais-Louis Theatre. The company gained a larger following from their participation in the American Dance Festival at Connecticut College in 1974. PBS also made a film about the group titled “Pilobolus & Joan” in 1974. In 1977, the company debuted on Broadway to a production by Pierre Cardin. They quickly gained international fame and began touring throughout the world. While Pilobolus currently has a repertoire of over one hundred dances, its most famous include: “Ciona,” “Monkshood Farewell,” “Untitled,” “Day Too,” “Shizen,” “Walklyndon,” among others. The Pilobolus Dance Theater performs a style of dance which is a fusion of gymnastics, slapstick, modern dance, and humor.

Today, the Pilobolus Dance Company is based in Washington Depot, Connecticut, and consists of four major branches. Pilobolus Dance Theatre is the six person touring dance company. The Pilobolus Institute is the educational program, and Pilobolus TOO is a second dance company, touring independently and with the Institute. Pilobolus Creative Services is the administrative arm of the company, coordinating commercial, publicity, and artistic affairs. 2008 marked the thirty-seventh year for Pilobolus, a group that has received the Samuel L. Scripps Award from the American Dance Festival in 2000 and the Berlin Critics Prize. Pilobolus has also been featured in Dance in America and inspired a spin-off company, Momix.

Biographical Sketches of Founding and Early Members of Pilobolus

Robby Barnett Barnett was born in the Adirondacks of New York state and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Dartmouth College in 1972. He became associated with the Pilobolus Dance Theater during his time at Dartmouth College. In addition to working with Pilobolus, Barnett serves as a metal worker, an instructor for Outward Bound Inc., and choreographs and performs with Crowsnest. He now is an Artistic Director for Pilobolus. Barnett currently resides in Northwestern Connecticut with his wife and two children.

Alison Becker Chase Chase was raised in St. Louis, MO, and received a B.A. in Philosophy and History from Washington University in St. Louis. She pursued a master's degree in dance at UCLA, and then became the choreographer in residence and an Assistant Professor of Dance at Dartmouth College. The Pilobolus Dance Theater was inspired and formed in her class. Chase has also choreographed for the Ririe-Woodbury Company, La Scala Opera, Fete de l'Humanite, and the Urban Nutcracker for the Cleveland School of Arts. She has also choreographed for the Rockettes of Radio City Music Hall. Along with Moses Pendleton, Chase helped found and joined Momix, an offshoot of Pilobolus. She was a Guggenheim fellow in 1980, taught Dance at Yale from 1991 to 1997, and received the Connecticut Commission for the Arts Governor's Award in 1997. She currently lives in Maine with her husband, Eric, and three children.

Martha Clarke Clarke was born in 1944 in Baltimore, Maryland, and studied at the Perry-Mansfield School of Theater & Dance in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. She was a founding member of Pilobolus and participated in the company from 1973 to 1978. At Pilobolus, she choreographed “Untitled”, “Ciona”, and “Moonkshood's Farewell”. She also cofounded Crowsnest with Felix Blaska and choreographs for that group. Clarke has also choreographed for Nederlans Dans Theater, Joffrey Ballet, and the American Ballet Theater. She also directed the Magical Flute for the Glimmer Glass opera. Clarke has received a MacArthur “Genius” Award and currently teaches at the Julliard School of Music in New York City.

Moses Robb Pendleton Pendleton was born and raised in northern Vermont and received a B.A. in English Literature from Dartmouth College in 1971. He cofounded the Pilobolus Dance Theater, but also choreographed “Physalia” for the 5 by 2 Dance Company. In addition, Pendleton has worked with the La Scala Opera, and the 1981 Fete de l'Humanite. Pendleton also choreographed a closing segment of the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, NY. Pendleton founded Momix, an offshoot of the Pilobolus Dance Theater, in 1980 at the Milan Festival. He was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1977 and received the Connecticut Commission for the Arts Governor's Award in 1998 as well as the Positano Choreographic Award in 1999.

Michael Tracy Tracy was born in Florence, Italy, but grew up in Storrs, Connecticut, and Rochester, New York. He received a Bachelor of Arts from Dartmouth College in 1973 as a Senior Fellow in Social Psychology. Tracy has served as the Artistic Director of the Pilobolus Dance Theater since 1974. In 1995, Tracy choreographed the Magic Flute; and, in 1996, he choreographed a national tour production for the National Theater of the Deaf. He currently teaches at Yale University.

Jonathan Wolken (1949-2010) Receiving a B.A. in Philosophy from Dartmouth College in 1971, Wolken was a cofounder the Pilobolus Dance Theater. He served as Artistic Director for the group. Wolken also choreographed for the Glynde Bourne Festival Opera's production of Maurice Sendak's “Where the Wild Things Are.” He also created Oneiric, a Pilobolus Danish television program for the Royal Danish Ballet. Wolken served as the Artist-in-Residence for the USIS-sponsored Arts America Program in Kuopio, Finland. In 1991, Wolken also became the Development Director for Pilobolus.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Pilobolus Dance Theatre records

Identifier: ML-97
Date(s): 1971 to 2011
Scope and Contents The Pilobolus Dance Theatre was created from a class project in a beginner’s modern dance class at Dartmouth College in 1971. It has evolved into a world-renowned and highly respected modern dance theater that includes an administrative arm, two dance groups, and an educational institute. Included in the records are: recordings of performances, including rehearsals and interviews in various formats; business records and correspondence; and, playbills, pictures, and memorabilia. The records...
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