For a dance about nature, Momix’s Botanica includes a number of special effects.
There is the lighting, used to create illusions on stage, as if rocks and worms and marigolds had come to life. There are the costumes and the props, used to transform dancers into all sorts of flora and fauna.
There’s a dinosaur, too, but Moses Pendleton isn’t interested in saying much. Half the fun of a Momix performance is catching the audience off-guard, said Pendleton, the choreographer who founded the theatrical dance company.
“We’re hoping for some pleasant surprises,” he said. “It’s a real escape from reality for a couple hours. It’s almost like watching a movie in slow motion. It’s dreamlike.”
The Augusta Ballet presents two performances by Momix on Oct. 6 and 7. The events are part of the city’s fourth annual Westobou Festival, a 10-day celebration of the arts that starts Thursday, Sept. 29.
It’s an unusual and high-profile performance for Augusta, said Jennifer Franks, the executive director of the Augusta Ballet.
“We really were dreaming when we picked this performance. We wanted to go big, and this was big,” Franks said. “People are talking about it who aren’t normally talking about dance. We want to put on something that can only be seen in New York, Paris, London and Augusta, Ga. This is that performance.”
The performances are loosely based on the four seasons, Pendleton said.
“It draws its inspiration from the natural world – the plant, the animal, the mineral,” Pendleton said.
It’s the perfect show for Augusta, Franks said.
“We really see it as a tribute to the Garden City. It celebrates nature in remarkable ways,” Franks said. “It’s a fantasy. It is a visual, sumptuous fantasy. It’s living, breathing art. It captures the spirit of Westobou, which is to expect the unexpected.”
The festival includes more than 50 events, including music, visual art, film and spoken word, in addition to dance.
About half of Westbou events are free. Momix shows will be one of the more expensive to attend, with tickets ranging from $20 to $70.
“This is worth it,” Franks said. “This is unapologetically worth it.”
She describes Momix’s work as “ethereal, mind-blowing 21st-century dance.”
Pendleton said Botanica was born when he realized he could fuse his two loves into dance.
“My passion has always been the outdoors and the theater,” he said. “If I can combine the two, I’m a happy camper.”
From Vivaldi to Peter Gabriel, the show’s music is just as diverse as its costumes and props. Michael Curry, the man behind the props and puppetry of The Lion King musical, fashioned Momix’s props for Botanica. They include a larger-than-life dinosaur skeleton, dancing rocks and flowers.
Incorporating props into dance is a process that hinges on improvisation, Pendleton said.
Early in the production, he said someone brought in flexible sewer pipe from the hardware store.
“We start creating with it, seeing what we can do with it,” he said. “And you realize it does look like a worm and maybe you can have a dance about that.”
The show features 10 dancers – five men, five women – who morph into various roles throughout the production, including three rocks, eight trees, five marigolds, and five hornets.
“That’s the challenge,” he said. “You don’t want to see a well-trained dancer in a rock costume. You want to see a rock.”