Members of Pilobolus in one of their singular formations.
photo by Pilobolus Dance Theatre
It's not an entirely happy 35th season for Pilobolus Dance Theatre, which is experiencing a feud between company management and one of the company's founders, a woman who has been called "the mother of Pilobolus" but has now left the troupe's board of directors.
Ben's Admonition, a piece choreographed by Alison Chase, is currently being performed by Pilobolus as part of its annual summer residency at the Joyce Theater in New York City. But Chase, who inspired the founding of Pilobolus in 1971, told The New York Times that she was denied ownership of that and other dances she created. "It was artistic differences and sort of a mean-spirited power grab by the board," she told the paper.
Executive director Itamar Kubovy, however, responded that the company could not afford the larger-scale works Chase wanted to stage. He told the Times that she was offered access to her dances and a contract to stay with the company as a choreographer, which she declined. She was voted off the board after suggesting she wanted to start a potentially rival company, a claim that Chase denied in the Times, adding that she felt creatively stifled by management.
Chase choreographed five pieces that will appear at the Joyce this season. According to the Times, she said she asked the company not to perform the works and to "dare to tell the world what you've done to the mother of Pilobolus," to which Kubovy responded, "She does not own that work, nor does she have the right to decide whether or not we perform it."
Pilobolus was founded in 1971 by four young men — Jonathan Wolken, Lee Harris, Moses Pendleton and Robby Barnett — who were students in Chase's dance class at Dartmouth College. (Chase herself joined two years later.) The company's free-spirited, collaborative choreographic process favors non-traditional approaches to partnering; its eclectic dances mix mime, dance and acrobatics.
Other dance companies, most notoriously Martha Graham's, have recently faced similar battles over ownership of works.