Garden Party: With Pilobolus in the Garden, TITAS/DANCE UNBOUND returns to live, in-person performance

The dance company Pilobolus has many missions: to tell stories with the human form, to test the limits of human physicality, to explore the beauty and power of connected bodies. But most of all it aims to teach people how to connect through designed live experiences.

For many, Pilobolus in the Garden at the Nasher Sculpture Center Garden—presented by TITAS/Dance Unbound, AT&T Performing Arts Center, the Nasher, and the Dallas Arts District—is the official return to live performance since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. And since its original four shows on May 22 sold out in only 18 hours (a fifth is currently in the works), audiences have proven they are more than ready to connect in-person again.

“This is a really lovely collaborative project,” says TITAS executive and artistic director Charles Santos. “It’s a great way to say we’re all back.”

Besides the Pilobolus company of six dancers, the production also includes 14 student dancers from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (who are being paid for their performances). Santos notes that the event will also include the reading of poems selected through a competition within the school’s writing department. As the dancers and masked audience (which is capped at 90 people) move through five different sections of the garden to experience different pieces of the production, the winning words will be spoken for the crowd.

“It’s our first big collaboration with the school, and we’re very excited about it,” Santos says. “The parents and faculty will be attending a special dress rehearsal just for them.”

TITAS, as we wrote back in November 2020, has spent the pandemic finding new ways to connect with its audiences while continuing to produce and plan for the future. The first two companies scheduled to open its 2020 season, Alonzo King/Lines Ballet from San Francisco and Complexions Contemporary Ballet from New York City, each had to be rescheduled several times due to travel restrictions and safety concerns. But both are now back on the schedule.

Alonzo King/Lines Ballet will perform at 8 pm on Saturday, June 12, at the Winspear Opera House. Jason Moran, a MacArthur Fellow and artistic director for Jazz at the Kennedy Center, says of the company, “Alonzo has a way of hearing. His choreography becomes melodic content.”

Complexions Contemporary Ballet, led by dance icons Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson, will perform at 8 pm on Saturday, June 19. Two diverse and extraordinary works are on the bill: Woke, created in 2018, examines our humanity and today’s political climate, while Love Rocks, set to the music of Lenny Kravitz, is rock-meets-ballet.

“We’re not quite ready to go back to full seating at the Opera House,” says Santos, “but we have released an additional 200 seats per show, bringing it up to about 45%.”

He also notes that TITAS is “changing the way we run shows for now,” by doing away with intermissions and opening the house an hour before curtain instead of 30 minutes as was previously done, to help space out the arrival of audience members. But Santos still recognizes the need for a little break during the performances; during Complexions Contemporary Ballet’s, TITAS will show a short, 10-minute film on the creation of Woke.

As COVID numbers continue to fall and vaccine rates rise, TITAS can finally begin planning for a complete season. It will be announced in June, and Santos hints that it will include seven companies (down from its pre-pandemic norm of 10): “Not what we normally do, but still a lot of shows,” he says. Its popular digital Salon Series will also continue, with a special one planned for Dallas’ Gay Pride celebrations in June. The Dallas Arts District will be hosting several events on June 19, and TITAS will participate by broadcasting its discussion about gay culture and the performing arts world from the Center Café, where Santos and the four panelists will be able to have a conversation in person instead of over the internet.

But first comes Pilobolus and its site-specific exploration of the nature of nature. “This has really been a time for problem solvers, and I have never seen this community be as collaborative as right now,” says Santos. “We have a full season coming up and an audience clamoring for tickets, so as long as we continue to be smart and safe, we will be back.”