Jonathan Wolken '71, one of the founding members of the Pilobolus Dance Theater, passed away on June 13th at the age of 60. Here at Rauner, we were lucky enough to work with Jonathan and get to know him over the past few years as we took in the Pilobolus archives. In memory of Jonathan, we have mounted a small exhibit in our reading room drawn from the papers of the dance company.
"Pilobolus (crystallinus) is a phototropic zygomycete - a sun-loving fungus that grows in barnyards and pastures. It grows on a stalk as a small bladder, pressurized by cell sap and topped with a tiny black cap filled with spores. When time and Pilobolus are ripe, this entire sporangium is blasted off with incredible force and the little spore bags can shoot over a cow like clowns out of a cannon. It's reported that the acceleration - from 0-45 mph in the first mm of flight - is the second fastest in nature."
Like the fungal spores, the Pilobolus Dance Theater burst forth on the dance scene in the mid-1970s. During their first full year, they toured the college circuit with stops in New York and some smaller arts venues. By 1978 they had appeared on Broadway, been featured in Time magazine and performed on PBS’s Dance in America series.
Pilobolus developed out of a class project in Alison Becker Chase's Drama 54 class, "Dance," in Spring 1971. Among the original group were Jonathan Wolken '71 and Robert (Moses) Pendleton '71. Robby Barnett '72 and Michael Tracy '73 joined shortly afterward, and in 1973 Alison Becker Chase and Martha Clarke joined the company as its first female members.
Pilobolus was founded with a quasi-utopian spirit bent on an egalitarian and community-based notion of creative expression. The group sought to blur gender lines and create cooperatively in an atmosphere of shared vision. On one level, the company appears to be a counterculture response to conservative social mores, but Pilobolus's daring use of weight and physicality goes beyond suggesting sexual freedom to create oppositions and dynamic movements that fundamentally challenge gender roles in dance and in society.
Learn more about the Pilobolus Dance Theater Archive or read about Pilobolus performances at the Hop this week.