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Moses Pendelton is a dance illusionist
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Moses Pendelton is a dance illusionist
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I'm reading
Moses Pendelton is a dance illusionist
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Pass it on
15 November 2013

Moses Pendelton is a dance illusionist

Moses is the founder of contemporary dance group, Momix and it’s a world away from his upbringing on a dairy farm in Northern Vermont.

Written by Cassy Liberman

Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people.

Moses Pendelton lives his passions.  Every day is a conscious, ritualised journey, immersed in nature. He finds inspiration in the sunlight and obsessively explores the different means of artistic expression.

Moses is the founder of contemporary dance group, Momix, known for its performances saturated with colour, illusion, vibrant music and dynamic movement. It’s a world away from his upbringing on a dairy farm in Northern Vermont.

Recently, Moses toured Australia with Botanica, his ode to the seasons. It was the first time I had seen a Momix production, live. I was so overwhelmed by the beauty and genius of the performance that I cried—much to the horror of my children.

Some months later, with a storm raging outside, I sat down to talk with Moses about what inspires him.

You grew up on a dairy farm in Northern Vermont? How did you journey from wanting to breed the perfect dairy cow to finding inspiration and lifelong passion in dance?

Well basically, the key word is passion.

My father’s passion was to create the perfect Holstein Friesian (diary cow). He was into breeding, but he was also a passionate person to the point where, if there were a sick cow on the farm he would pull me out of school. So I was groomed by my father to be a breeder. He was very interested in me being a veterinarian.

Life is filled with surprises, and even if they’re negative ones you try to turn them alchemically into positive experiences. My father, who I was very close to, committed suicide when I was 12 years old and suddenly that dream of creating the perfect Holstein Friesian was suddenly up in smoke.

Why did it go up in smoke, didn’t you want to continue your father’s dream?

No, my mother thought it was best to go out on a glacier and ski with the Austrian ski team and learn how to be a downhill racer, so from wanting to be a veterinarian and a breeder of Holsteins, I moved to my next passion, which was to become a downhill racer.

I went to Dartmouth college to study with the US Olympic ski coach, but on the second day I broke my leg, so I left the ski team and took a dance class to recuperate. I never would have taken a dance class if I hadn’t broken my leg. I felt that my dance instructor was much more attractive than my ski coach and we began to try to put, let’s say, an aesthetic onto the athletic… You better go with the flow if you want to go further. I take that process right into the dance studio where I try to reveal the magic that’s already there, it’s just hidden under our nose.

I didn’t just become a ballet dancer and study Balanchine, I was interested in making my own show, my own physical visual theatre which was Pilobolus in the early days and then onto Momix. In a way, it was actually a continuation of a physical life that I lead.

Now that I have retired from dancing, I am still interested in making dance, which for me is not just people hopping around but a mixture, hence the word Momix. It’s a mixture of visual sound, media, lighting, costumes and props; whatever it takes to make a physical, visual theatre.

It’s somewhat dreamlike, fanciful and hopefully not a nightmare. We take a kind of a painterly, sculptural approach. At school I studied romantic poetry. That influences my work as a director and a choreographer, because there is a poetic nature to man. What is poetry but dance in motion? What is dance, but poetry in motion?

Nature often provides a source of exploration for you.

I’ve always been interested in seeing how the human makes contact or attempts to make contact with a non-human. You see it in our work a great deal. I grow tens of thousands of sunflowers. I spend a great deal of time working in the gardens photographing, filming, thinking and being inspired by the landscape. I never tire of them and I work arduously to maintain them and now, I’m trying to turn them into art. I did almost 5000 photographs today alone, I’m on a roll here.

How important is the musical journey for you? Is it something that you explored in the way that you’ve explored photography?

Music makes everything cinematic so it’s helpful to me. I walk the back oakwoods for four to five hours a day usually with headphones on, listening to various music. You know, you can close your eyes and see the dance if the score is good. I pay just as much attention to music. It’s all part of the mix of lighting, and costumes… I chose all the pieces of music in Botanica. There’s almost 30 bits of music from various places, put together in a single score.

It sounds like a very organic process; you come with the germ of the idea that’s something you’re passionate about and then you workshop that idea with your team. Is that a conscious choice?

Once you find a system that can give you high grade fuel, you can accomplish things with ease. You have to take a Zen approach, don’t try to control it. It’s an attitude of childlike wonderment in the end. There’s this obsession, let’s say or this passion for something. And then you create a dance to celebrate the wonderment [laughs] it’s funny that we made Botanica as a gift to the garden. We made the whole dance and the show because you know, we half jokingly say, that if you can’t come to this magic garden that we will take the essence of it as best as we can, translate it into dance and theatre and ship it to Melbourne.

I find it really interesting that you’re so immersed, yet you’re able to filter that and present it to the world in these very tight programs.

Yes, little poems, little stories, vignettes. It’s not like watching a dance concert. It’s just the way I think, you know. When I initially started this 33 years ago I wanted it to have the dynamic of a rock album, with small cuts, one to four minutes maximum, then put them in, like a compilation, like a visual rock band, Momix is somewhat more rock and roll.

What does time out look like for you?

I’m on a permanent vacation. A lot of people work really hard so that they can retire and do the things they always wanted to do. Well I’ve been doing all the things that I wanted to do since I was 12. I live in the great country of America where we’re very fortunate. [Laughs] as Einstein says, ‘My dear, it really comes down to the E, the energy.’ The world is in an energy crisis and it’s not just oil, its personal energy, it’s personal attitude. There’s a lot of ways to electrify the human organism so that it can actually accomplish the things it needs to accomplish, but you need a positive attitude.

Cassy Liberman

Cassy Liberman is a writer, businesswoman and philanthropist who is devoted to education, child welfare, and the creation of a rich, representative Australian culture.

Photographs by Max Pucciariello

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