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]
Thu Jun 27 2013
Time Out New York: You said that you have seen Pilobolus before. When did you start watching the company?
Teller: I think I first saw Pilobolus at Princeton University between 1975 and ’80. They’ve been around.
Time Out New York: What struck you then?
Teller: Well, I’ll confess: sexy.
Time Out New York: What was the process of training the dancers to do this kind of movement?
Teller: You sort of build things in both directions. One example is this: We were thinking about what the modern equivalent of being tied to a chair is. There’s a famous bit of Houdini footage in which you see him tied to a chair in one of his film melodramas, and the bad guys go away, and he proceeds to wrench himself out of this chair-tie—he’s bouncing around the chair like a maniac, and the chair goes over backward, and he lands flat on his back and then he kind of rips himself apart and gets out. It’s amazing. We thought, Hmm, the modern equivalent that we’ve all seen in movies and fear about happening in real life are people being duct-taped to a chair. Jun said, “I want to try it.” We watched as this wiry little guy—he doesn’t look like a muscle guy, but holy fuck: By sheer force, he ripped himself out. And then Jordan [Kriston] said, “I’d like to try that.” And we thought, How cool is this? To see a woman do this absolute superhero stuff! Lo and behold, we taped her to the chair, and she just ripped her way out. We thought, Okay—that’s amazing. How can a person possibly do that? When a guy is doing it, you go, Okay so a guy’s ripping his way out of a chair. You see a woman do it, and you go, Wow—women have power. And that’s sort of the way it developed. We would test one thing and see what they were capable of doing. The business of putting Jun in the duffel bag came about from seeing how tightly he could fold himself up into little places. I said, “Why don’t we go out and shop for a backpack? I think it would be interesting to see somebody escape from a backpack.” Jun found that he could do more interesting movement inside a duffel bag than he could do inside a backpack, because a backpack has a frame whereas with a duffel bag, he can become a giant maggot—flipping and squirming. And it was hilarious and cute, at the same time that it was really horrific. I always like things that are layered.
Time Out New York: How so?
Teller: So they’re funny, but also horrible and also intellectually interesting. That’s part of what we ended up doing with the duffel-bag escape: It becomes a little referenced to TSA, and what you’re allowed to take along with you and how useful that would be in escaping from a duffel bag. Anything that’s dark interests me to begin with.
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