The story behind one of America’s top modern dance companies began, strangely enough, on a dairy farm in northern Vermont.
As a young boy, Moses Pendleton fed his father’s calves a milk-based feed supplement called Momix. Fast forward to the early 1970s when, as an undergraduate dance student from Dartmouth, Pendleton took part in his first public performance at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont. He danced with a male trio that called themselves Pilobolus.
Pendleton’s widely acclaimed dance company, MOMIX, which he founded in 1981, will return to New Orleans for a Friday evening performance at the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts. MOMIX, which has performed in New Orleans several times in recent years, will be opening the 2014-15 season for the New Orleans Ballet Association with a 17-piece show titled “MOMIX in Alchemia.”
A world-renowned artistic director and choreographer whose troupe has won critical acclaim and prestigious awards for its modern dance innovations and creative illusionism, Pendleton explained the origin of the MOMIX name (which, he noted, is always spelled in upper case letters).
Most people, he said, think it’s a combination of the first syllable of his first name added to the word “mix” but that’s not the case, he added.
“I suppose you could say it’s ‘Moses’ mix’ but you can read this several ways. The idea behind the name MOMIX is that it’s kind of a musical term, like ‘remix’ or ‘whatever can go into the mix.’ But the reality is we named it after what I fed the Holsteins when I was growing up on the dairy farm. I used to call it ‘MooMix,’ he laughed.
For 10 years, Pendleton danced and toured with Pilobolus, a troupe that is still active today and has performed in New Orleans in recent years. Then, in 1981, eager to further stretch his creative legs — literally and metaphorically — he founded MOMIX.
He has been directing and choreographing MOMIX since then, and even danced with the troupe until just a few years ago.
Elaborating on the theme of the upcoming performance, Pendleton said, “I’ve always liked the word ‘alchemy.’ It describes perfectly what we’re trying to do. We’ve always been kind of an alchemical theater, taking alchemy more to the level of creativity. We use alchemical principles of spinning disparate objects and ideas into a creative mix, incorporating some of the wild ideas that are just under the surface.”
Among the creative innovations that MOMIX is especially noted for are the illusions the dancers achieve onstage, thanks to skilled usage of strobe lights and other imaginative lighting patterns. “It’s amazing what tricks the right kind of lighting can do to affect your perception,” Pendleton said. “It’s all about light and the manipulation of it that causes you to see or not see what’s up there on stage. MOMIX uses a lot of flashing lights and various effects to create a kind of visual, physical, illusionistic theater.”
Constantly attuned to nature, thanks to the pastoral locale of his home — which doubles as company headquarters in rural Washington, Connecticut — Pendleton finds inspiration for dance themes from his surroundings. “I am almost always looking for some kind of a visual, musical impression of something,” he explained. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be human.
“That’s part of the aesthetic of MOMIX, making those contacts with the non-human elements; the plants, animals and minerals,” he continued. “It’s a key part of the attraction of the company — to use the imagination and see how we are connected to those other forms of architecture and nature.
“What MOMIX does, hopefully, is have you enter their world that celebrates magic and mystery,” Pendleton said. “Ultimately, it’s about transformation and metamorphosis. I say jokingly, it’s a pure hybrid of a lot of different elements be they lighting, scenic design, special sound and costumes — that create this imagery. You have to look at it with an open mind. The picture, the experience is working for you; that’s what really counts.”