'Momix' director draws on energy of the '60s

Francis Ma

You can take a guy out of the ’60s, but you can’t take the ’60s out of the guy. Especially if he doesn’t want to go.

Witnessing the impossibly flexible dancers of Momix contort their bodies in a surreal production on stage, it’s easy to be pulled in by their elegant and soft movements, and the graceful choreography.

Yet, beneath that is the company’s audacious and rebellious nature, one that took the creativity and artistic freedom of the Summer of Love and carried it into the technological world of the 21st century.

Despite having no formal dance training, Momix leader and founder Moses Pendleton has led his people to freedom amidst a world of conformity and repetition.

“I was part of that particular time in the ’60s,” explains Pendleton. “We weren’t interested in making a living the normal way. It was about how you could beg and borrow and be free and creative.”

Throughout the years, Pendleton’s dance company has consistently impressed audiences with performances that suggest anything is possible. The only limit in the world is one’s imagination.

“The Best of Momix,” which Pendleton describes as “the highlights of the past 25 years,” will play the Cutler Majestic Theatre, Jan. 25-27 and will feature acts from “Baseball,” “Opus Cactus” and a couple from the group’s classical show.

Imagine your most surreal dreams being performed on a stage, and you’ll get an idea of what to expect. With props, creative lighting, and artistic body movements, Pendleton creates a mesmerizing show that can re-create a desert landscape (as in “Opus”) or reveal the delicate ballet in sport (as in “Baseball”)

But more interesting than the show is how Pendleton, who grew up on a farm in rural Vermont, got involved in dance in the first place.

“It was from a skiing accident,” says Pendleton, completely serious. “Every summer I would train with the Austrian ski team in Mt. Hood in Oregon. I broke my leg in a skiing accident and had to take dance classes to recuperate and found my dance instructor was more attractive than my ski instructor. So it was partly for athleticism and aesthetics.”

Pendleton wasn’t interested in formal dance training. Instead, he embraced the artistic freedom and surreal creativity of the “wild people” he met during the Summer of Love.

His first show starred a white sheet and 50 grazing cows.

“I had the white sheet over my head and ran ahead of them,” says Pendleton. “Witnesses were amazed at the stampeding, milking Holsteins coming directly at you.”

Later on in Dartmouth, he experimented more, trying to do things with natural light and forming unnatural shapes with just the use of shadows. They were so impressive that Pendleton and his friends were asked to open a Frank Zappa concert.

“Zappa called us ‘far out theater’ and wanted us to tour with him,” recalls Pendleton. “We told him we had math exams. But it was a very formative experience and showed us that there was an audience for what we were doing.”

This led to the creation of the Pilobolus Dance Company (which he co-founded) in 1971. The company focused on people coming together and creating various shapes with their bodies. If you watched the Academy Awards last year, you may remember the dance routines where the troupe created images for “The Departed” (they formed a gun) and “Happy Feet” (they formed penguins).

Soon, Pendleton broke away from Pilobolus and created Momix, a company that Pendleton says is a bit more mature.

“If I was the skewer, then Pilobolus would be the green pepper and Momix would be the meat,” laughs Pendleton. “I’ve always been interested in the surreal. Pilobolus is more dance-oriented where Momix finds new ways of moving…with 10-foot poles.”

Today, Pendleton still lives on a farm and has managed to maintain his creative freedom, even when he gets a gig with the corporate world (he did a commercial for Mercedes Benz where he had tree branches morph into a car). 

“Sure, I miss those early days, the Love Generation,” says Pendleton. “But I continue to draw energy from that, taking the best out of that generation and using it for Momix.”

It’s not a bad life, as he draws inspiration from taking hikes, listening to music and surveying his acres of sunflowers helped bring him dream up his next show. He reveals that it will be called “Botanica,” a piece with very green themes that should be completed in a year.

“I have a strong interest in birds, bees and the secret life of trees,” says Pendleton, not realizing he just made a rhyme. “I’m an avant-garde farmer and figured if I’m going to spend that much time in the garden I should find a way to bring it into the theater.”