Momix plans to bring arid lands to the Eccles Center |

Momix plans to bring arid lands to the Eccles Center

Momix’s “Cactus Opus” is filled with images of desert life that are brought to the stage by dancers.
Charles Paul Azzopardi |

Momix has blurred the lines between modern dance, visual art and theatre for nearly 40 years.

The combination of disciplines grew out of the idea by founder and director Moses Pendleton.

“With Momix, it isn’t just the movements, but also the performance qualities,” Pendleton said during a call to The Park Record fro m his office in Connecticut. “One of the hardest things for our dancers to do is play the role of a rock.”

Rocks, as well as plants, lizards and sand will be part of the program when the Park City Institute presents Momix’s “Opus Cactus” at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 16, at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.

Pendleton, who established Momix nine years after co-founding the Pilobolous Theatre, said “Opus Cactus” was originally a 20-minute work commissioned by Ballet Arizona.

“I originally went down there to create something about sunflowers, which I’m known for growing,” Pendleton said. “I wanted to do something about the Native American ritual about painting sunflowers on their chests and dancing all night. I figured if I would go down and spray painted the members of Dance Arizona and video taped them dancing, just to see what would come out of it.”

The idea changed when Pendleton walked out into a cactus garden the second day he was in Phoenix.

“I was there when the day was turning into night, and saw this low light that caused the objects to change visually into different things,” he said. “What was a spiky cactus in the noon-day looked more like a sinister uncle at night.”

So Pendleton began toying with the idea of using low-light and silhouettes to create his on-state illusions.

“I took two dancers and put them together in a certain way and show how they can become a plant, a mineral or a cactus,” he said. “We took the idea of that area, the Sonoran Desert, and moved it through a dance-theatre filter and alchemically spun those notions into a piece.”

The dancers also became other things, including a the bird called the cactus wren that lives in saguaro cacti or the lizards who crawl around the sands of the desert, Pendleton said.

After premiering “Opus Cactus” in 2001, Pendleton took back the piece and added to it.

“I was still interested in the idea of the flora, the mystery and magic of the desert,” he said. “I moved the piece to a more global theme that included deserts worldwide — Gobi, Sahara and the deserts of Australia.”

Pendleton created a new score for the work and infused recordings of didgeridoo, Arabic and Native American music.

“The artists range from Brian Eno to Transglobal Underground and other rock, aboriginal and indigenous artists,” he said. “Even the music gives audience a sense of being outside in the desert, which is what I wanted to do because if people can’t get outside to the desert, the next best thing is to bring the desert to the audience.”

While the dancers are faced with the physical challenge of performing the work, they also are tasked with maintaining the quality of the piece, which fits in a long line of critically acclaimed Pendleton works.

“The company is also very disciplined, and we have dance captains who file performance reports,” Pendleton said. “They videotape every show, even the ones that I can’t be at, and then send the SD cards to our home office.”

Since the concerts are live, it is rare that the dancers perform a perfect show, which is something they strive for, Pendleton said.

“So I usually tell the dancers after I review the reports that a piece is ‘good enough to merit further rehearsal,’” he said laughing. “I try to inspire them to keep it going, especially during the long tours, because just like any athlete the dancers can get very tired.”

Still, Pendleton said the Momix dancers take a certain pride in performing with the company.

“Even the new people in the company try to impress the older dancers,” he said. “You also have to have an objectivity and take a position that you’re doing this piece right so it registers from the audience point of view, even though it hurts doing it.”

Pendleton said his company enjoys performing in Park City.

“We always have a great time out there because there is always a good audience, and there’s a nice atmosphere in the town,” he said. “I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to be there, but the dancers are looking forward to it.”

Park City Institute will present Momix at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 16, at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd. The performance-art company — founded by Moses Pendleton — uses light, shadow, and the human body to create illusions inspired by nature. The production titled “Opus Cactus” is an ode to the desert. Tickets range from $29 to $79. They can be purchased by visiting

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