Category: Archive

Quinn emerges as force in dynamic dance troupe

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

With her close-cropped hair and clear, bright eyes, the 50-year-old dancer could easily pass for 35 or even 30.
She speaks unselfconsciously about the day in 1981 when she auditioned for the Pilobolus Dance Theater, the company from which Momix, the troupe of which she is now a part, sprang, much in the manner of Eve being constructed from Adam?s rib.
?They were looking for one woman,? she recalled. ?Two hundred people showed up for the audition and they picked me.?
It was on that day that she met her husband, Moses Pendleton, the Pilobolus dancer who founded the Momix company, which will be at the Joyce Theater through this Sunday, performing three full-evening programs, ?Baseball,? ?Opus Cactus? and ?Passion.?
Quinn?s first encounter with Pendleton wasn?t exactly ideal.
?He was actually the only one who didn?t want me,? she said. ?He thought I was too boyish, I had short hair and seemed too conservative.?
Pilobolus, operating as a kind of commune, with the six dancers and their bosses contributing to the choreography, voted on every significant issue.
?Everybody else voted for me, except for Moses, but he lost, so I was in,? she remembered. ?I started working on some of the company?s repertoire, and then we did a new piece that spring, and that was the first time we ever really worked together.?
The piece was ?Day Two,? which has since become a kind of rousing signature piece for Pilobolus, much in the way ?Revelations? has come to be the work for which the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater is best known.
?It was a very important piece, because it was the first major work that wasn?t done on the original members,? she added. ?It was a big transition piece for the company and, fortunately, it went very well.?
When Quinn refers to ?the original members,? she means the four Dartmouth undergraduates who, with one of their teachers, created Pilobolus. One of the four men was Moses Pendleton.
Cynthia Quinn had come East from her family?s home in California to pursue a career in dance. ?Actually, my family were Canadians and my father was Irish. We became first-generation Californians,? she said.
The family lived in Fontana, a small town in Southern California. Quinn moved to New York when she was 27. That was about six months before the Pilobolus audition.
?I?d never really danced professionally, except for small semi-professional companies on the West Coast. I?d gone to the University of California at Riverside, majoring in dance,? she recalled. ?After graduation, I stayed there for five years as an associate professor and taught until I came to New York to dance.?
Momix was born, in a way, when Moses Pendleton created a dance solo named ?Momix.? ?It was commissioned for the Winter Olympics at Lake Placid,? she said. ?It was a breakaway piece for him in that it was a solo, and it was the first time that anybody danced in shoes, when a lot of people in the company were saying that you couldn?t do that, that you had to be barefoot. There were a lot of people you had to ask when you wanted to do something, but Moses just did what he wanted to do. It was very loose, with a lot of improv.?
The ?Mo? in ?Momix? derived from the first two letters of Moses Pendleton?s first name.
Another factor in the emergence of Momix arrived when Pendleton and another Pilobolus member, Alison Chase, after a European tour with dancers from various companies, were asked if they could put together their own show, an evening of solos and duets.
?That was Momix,? Quinn said ?And it premiered at the Teatro Nazionale in Milan in 1981.? Pendleton and Chase were still Pilobolus members, but a year earlier, in 1980, something had happened which really fixed the course that led to Momix.
?Moses had been asked by the Paris Opera in the late 1970s to choreograph the complete works of the composer Eric Satie,? she said. ?It was eight hours of choreography, and it was that experience of Dadaism and Surrealism at the Paris Opera that really was the turning point that led to Momix, with instantaneous theater, theater of the moment.?
Quinn stayed with Pilobolus for five years, then, gradually, found herself spending more time with Momix. ?There seemed to be more work there, ? she remembered. ?Besides, I wanted to work with Moses.?
Spontaneity was an early ideal for Momix. ?The early shows were just chaotic,? she said. ?Moses was working with dancers from Paul Taylor, from Pilobolus, from the Joffrey Ballet, and other places. They?d come together, and very loosely, that day, figure out what they wanted to do for that night?s show. They?d do it, and then they?d go back to their regular jobs, to the companies of which they were members.?
There were actually only three of those complex evenings over the course of the next year, but the Momix seeds had germinated.
?It started with two dancers and then there were four dancers, six dancers, 10 dancers, and now we have 30 dancers
It?s difficult to keep any dance troupe, even the smaller ones, employed for the full calendar year, but Momix has done, and continues to do astonishingly well. ?We have two groups,? she said. ?One group of 10 dancers we employ about 40 or 45 weeks a year, with medical and dental coverage and everything. And then there?s another group that works about 20 weeks a year. Last year and this year we?ve had two groups out for probably 35 or 40 weeks, with one company in the United States and one in Europe.?.
For the current Joyce season, Momix has fielded those thirty dancers, including Cynthia Quinn and Quinn Pendleton, the couple?s 17-year-old daughter, who is performing some of the roles her mother created. The dancer cut back on her stage activities in order to devote her time to being an attentive mother, but the one thing she hasn?t had the heart to give up is the dazzling and magical solo she performs in ?Baseball,? which is probably the company?s most popular evening.
Quinn will be doing her number, ?The Wind-Up,? in both of this coming Sunday?s performances of ?Baseball,? first at the 2 p.m. matinee and then, for the last time this season, at the 7:30 evening show.
The Momix headquarters are in Washington, Conn., the same town where Pilobolus makes its home, all of which gives a small village an impressive population of dancers. ?Sometimes, at the market or somewhere, you see an amazing number of beautiful bodies,? she said.

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