Viva MOMIX entertains its crowd with a parade of playful illusions

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      A MOMIX production. A DanceHouse presentation. At the Vancouver Playhouse on Friday, April 12. No remaining performances

      A figure appeared out of the dim light, a gigantic, billowing piece of fabric swirling out of his head and into the rafters above him, defying both gravity and logic.

      Like other moments in the nonstop parade of vignettes in Viva MOMIX, it took a few minutes to figure out what was going on—then you get lost in the dream again.

      In the case of the aptly titled Man Fan, the fabric spread out into a massive undulating V. Eventually, it became clear that dancer Steven Ezra wore a harness on his torso that held the massive, structured sheet of silk that splayed above him like a towering palm frond waving in the wind.

      Artistic director Moses Pendleton’s playful, often well-crafted trompe-l’oeils drew gasps and laughter through the soldout night at the Vancouver Playhouse. Though it was less intricately choreography-based than a lot of the international shows DanceHouse brings in, the evening was accessible, acrobatic, and often funny—lightly entertaining in its array of kinetic illusions, culled from MOMIX’s larger themed works.

      It would be interesting to compare the effect of this series of sketches to that of a sustained evening from MOMIX. Some of the pieces here easily stood on their own, working the elements of perception and surprise. In Echoes of Narcissus, an ever-morphing kaleidoscopic sculpture at centre stage turned out to be a woman lying on a mirror, sensually dancing with herself; the movement was complex and detailed here, as Jennifer Chicheportiche’s beautifully articulated flickering hand edged out through her tangled limbs. Elsewhere, in an equally ethereal standout, three moonlike glowing orbs, manipulated by a trio of powerhouse female dancers, were revealed as big helium balloons when the performers finally released them into the air. While they controlled the unruly spheres, legs fluttered, bent, and lunged in unusual ways.

      Some of MOMIX’s sketches came close to gimmickry (hello, black light), but there was always something new just a few minutes away. The audience could count on constant surprise, and, most of all, relentless, driving motion. When one group of women flicked white, transparent sheaths, the constant rippling could evoke clouds one moment, glowing jellyfish the next. In Marigolds, fuzzy, multilayered orange tutus appeared first like headless and limbless puffball aliens, shifting into women spinning like human tops. One of the evening’s most multilayered works explored paper and projections to endless puzzling lengths, text catching the bodies of the dancers and white sheets that rolled across the floor, then lifted into ribbons dancing in space.

      One of the works’ overriding moods was mysticism-lite, heightened by Pendleton’s use of music like the trancelike El Hadra and Deva Premal’s mantra-pop. And there was a lot of comedy—not something you usually get from contemporary dance. The more Chaplinesque moments included an offbeat cowboy number where the three male dancers each wore one stilt as a ridiculously long leg, and the crowd-pleasing slapstick finale, which featured increasingly absurd duets with wildly flailing dummies.

      Behind MOMIX’s inventive conjurings is an almost childlike sense of play. That, and a fast-moving mix that could entertain even dance neophytes, went a long way to earning the warm standing O—ending a strong DanceHouse season with an upbeat bang.