By Jeff Pederson
for The Beacon
Combining cutting-edge dance moves, interpretive imagery, creative scenery, mood-shaping music and a thought-provoking, reflective narrative, Pilobolus and Kohler Foundation’s Distinguished Guest Series will present “Shadowland The New Adventure” at the newly renovated Kohler Memorial Theater in Kohler on Thursday, Jan. 30 at 7:30 p.m
On the heels of the success of the original “Shadowland” show, which was originally developed in 2009, and enjoyed extended engagements in Germany and throughout Europe, “Shadowland The New Adventure” is currently touring cities throughout the United States.
According to Pilobolus and “Shadowland The New Adventure” Co-Artistic Director Matt Kent, “Shadowland” shows are a unique blend of multi-media, shadow play and dance, which have come together to form a unique entertainment experience for audiences throughout the world over the course of the past 50 years.
“Pilobolus was founded in 1971 at Dartmouth College when a group of athletes decided to take a dance class,” Kent said. “This resulted in the creation of a brand new form of dance, which became known for athletic bodies carrying each other and forming different shapes and patterns.
“Pilobolus has evolved since then, but we still rely on those same techniques in what we do today,” he said. “Over the years, Pilobolus has added in a narrative piece to combine the abstract into a beautiful collection of dance and interpret art on the stage, which tests the limits of human physicality, while exploring the power of connected bodies.”
The seeds for the original “Shadowland” show were planted when Pilobolus was called upon to do a dance interpretation of the film “Little Miss Sunshine” at the 2007 Academy Awards.
“The idea for the ‘Shadowland’ show came shortly after Pilobolus did a shadow dance performance of a scene from ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ at the Academy Awards,” Kent said. “That performance created an illusion and really helped Pilobolus create a new medium in which whole bodies come together to create composite images.
“That Academy Awards performance led to Pilobolus being asked to do a wide range of corporate work for major companies,” she said. “In doing that, we created little bits, images and techniques, which eventually contributed to the creation of the short-form shadow play ‘Shadowland’ in 2009.”
Over the next several years, Pilobolus brought “Shadowland” to stages throughout the world with the show gaining rave reviews and playing to sold-out audiences in Europe and Asia.
“We performed thousands of shows to over a million people in 32 countries with the original ‘Shadowland,’ Kent said. “It really found an audience in Europe and Asia. In Germany, we often played seven sell-out shows in a week. We really caught lightning in a bottle with the ‘Shadowland’ show in Germany in particular.”
Named after a barnyard fungus that propels its spores with extraordinary speed, accuracy and strength, Pilobolus has since created a new show “Shadowland The New Adventure,” which has again connected to audiences worldwide, particularly those in the United States.
“The new show has really resonated with audiences in the United States,” Kent said. “It has more of a human narrative than the first show, which was more episodic in nature.
“In addition, we’ve added some new shadow elements to the performance in this show,” he said. “The screen lifts and drops at certain points and I describe it as a more ‘do it yourself’ type of show, which is more ‘hands on’ and a bit less technical than the first ‘Shadowland’ show. It also includes Pilobolus’ approach to modern dance by incorporating high-energy, fast-paced multi-media innovation, including multiple moving screens of different sizes and shapes to leverage the contrast of darkness and light.”
“Shadowland The New Adventure” uses Pilobolus’ exploration of mixed media to tell a love story about two people and their quest to save a magical bird.
According to Kent, the show employs animation, video and live shadow theater to frame a madcap adventure that touches on the genres of science fiction, film noir and romantic comedy.
“The show tells the story of two workers, a man and woman, in a monotonous factory where their main job is to move boxes,” Kent said. “It is apparent that the man and woman like each other, but there are rules that they have to follow. One of them is that they can’t open the boxes. One day the woman breaks the rules by opening a box and finding a bird inside.
“The bird gives her the opportunity to take care of something,” he said. “In turn, it takes both of them on a journey, during which they become willing to risk everything to discover what is important in life. Along the way, they have to deal with a male boss that is oppressive and somewhat inappropriate at times. The woman is really the hero and the instigator of the action.”
“Shadowland The New Adventure” will be the first performance in the newly renovated Kohler Memorial Theater.
“Over the course of 2019, Kohler Memorial Theater has been transformed into a more comfortable and gracious space for guests and performers,” Kohler Foundation Program Manager Bridgitt Zielke said. “The theater transformation includes new roomier seats, larger lobby, dedicated will call and concession spaces, enlarged proscenium arch size for increased audience viewing and diversity of talent, ADA accessible restrooms, family/private restroom, 10 wheelchair seats, swing arms on select aisle seats to allow easier access, hearing assistance devices, push button door activation and ADA accessible ramp at the front of the theater.”
Kent, who has worked with Pilobolus since 1996 as a dancer, collaborator, creative director and choreographer, says the Kohler show will feature a special treat that Sheboygan County residents won’t want to miss.
“We are preparing a special finale after the regular performance ends just for the Kohler show,” Kent said. “We will be featuring images of Kohler, Sheboygan and the surrounding Sheboygan County area that will depict the architecture and scenes of the Sheboygan area.
“This part of the show has never been seen before and we are excited about it,” he said. “It should be super fun. It is a great way for our group to connect with the community.”
Kent says “Shadowland The New Adventure” is the type of show that offers a little bit of something for everyone.
“This is a show for the whole family,” Kent said. “It offers amazing imagery and provides a movie narrative that incorporates film noir, romance and sci-fi elements. It tells a story of triumphing over oppression and fighting against isolation.
“We have eight performers in this show, who communicate through movement, shadows and imagery as there is no dialogue,” he said. “Music is also used to set up the background vibe of each scene almost like a movie soundtrack. I am confident in saying that there is nothing else out there quite like this show. It is something that needs to be seen and experienced to be completely understood, appreciated and enjoyed.”
Tickets are on sale now at kohlerfoundation.org/tickets or by calling Kohler Foundation at 920-458-1972 between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
The Kohler Foundation is a non-profit, private foundation that supports arts, education, and art preservation initiatives in Wisconsin.