Penn & Teller create a new dance for Pilobolus

Teller talks about working with Pilobolus in a new work that explores the art of escape: [esc]


Pilobolus Photograph: John Kane

Pilobolus, the popular dance collective, turns to a pair of master illusionists, Penn & Teller, for its latest dance. In [esc], Penn & Teller devise diabolical escape acts for Pilobolus that feature duffel bags, stripper poles and duct tape. The company performs at the Joyce Theater July 9–Aug 4. In this interview, Teller talks about his sexy experience of working with the fine dancers of Pilobolus.

The next Houdini is among us, and it’s called Pilobolus. The dance collective, formed in 1971 and known for—among other things—its acrobatic prowess, is back at the Joyce Theater with a premiere by Penn & Teller. In [esc], the dancers perform a suite of escape acts that involve a dancer stuffed in a duffel bag, two others chained to one another on a stripper pole and another duct-taped to a chair. For Teller, who worked with both Penn Jillette and the magician Johnny Thompson to perfect numbers in the piece, [esc] represents some of their best work. He spoke about the process from Las Vegas where he and Penn perform their stage show live at the Rio All-Suites Hotel and Casino. 

Time Out New York: Why was this project interesting to you in the first place?
Oh my gosh, for so many reasons! [Laughs] I’ve known about and been a fan of Pilobolus for a long time. I had already started to work with Pilobolus on another project: I’m directing The Tempest with Pilobolus and music by Tom Waits next year. It’s a fabulous group of people, both physically and mentally. They’re all so strong and they’re all so sexy. So they came out to Vegas, and we just talked about things that we might do, and we realized, in the course of this discussion, that there hasn’t really been—since the day of Houdini—somebody who did escapes that you could take seriously. There were some people in the 1950s and ’60s. The Amazing Randi did some stuff, but in terms of the physicality of escapes, the one that you always think of is Houdini. We realized we had in these people, people who could do the physical elements of escapes like nobody has been able to do, ever. And you’re looking across the room at the Pilobolus people and one of the guys, just between times, is doing push-ups without his feet touching the floor. 

Time Out New York: Really? How?
It looks like an invisible person is lifting up his feet. We realized we had an amazing physical potential there, so we spent a week with them and decided that the right thing for them was to do a contrapuntal escape—that is, have different members of the troupe being bound up by audience members in various unpleasant ways and then watch them, to music, escape as if it’s a dance. I think it’s going to be one of those pieces that we’re most proud of, ever, even though the only visibility we’ll have in it is that Penn does a little bit of introduction. But believe me, our spirit is there, because these guys are doing what we wish we could do.  

Time Out New York: But can’t because of the intense physicality?
Yes! For heaven’s sake, I can’t do push-ups without my feet on the floor! For a 65-year-old gentleman, I’m in pretty good shape. I’m not in good enough shape that I could be chained around another half-naked human to a stripper pole and wriggle my way out of the other guy’s limbs and off the top of the 13-foot stripper pole. If you took me, as we take one of the beautiful women of that troupe, and taped me with duct tape to a steel chair and put a plastic bag over my head, I probably wouldn’t be able to rip myself out like a superhero, which she does. [Laughs] I’m perhaps not flexible enough to be folded up and stuck in a duffel bag and locked in there with a zip tie.

Time Out New York: How big is the duffel bag?
It’s a standard-size duffel bag. But the guy that gets put in there, Jun Kuribayashi, is already a wacko contortionist, and he gets tied with like his ankle to his wrist to his whatever—he’s a little knot before he even gets stuck into the duffel bag. And then there’s a surprise.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4

You might also like

Dance events calendar

  1. The Grand Paradise

    The Grand Paradise: Theater review by Adam Feldman...

  2. Hot Chocolate...

    Regress to childhood with skillfully concocted mug...

  3. O, Earth

    O, Earth: Theater review by Helen ShawOne of the l...

239 more events »


Subscribe to Time Out New York on Spotify for playlists and recommendations from our Music team.

Check out New York's best restaurants, hottest street style, cool apartments and more.