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'Opus Cactus' another take on dance

When choreographer Moses Pendleton was commissioned to create a piece for Ballet Arizona in 2001, he was inspired by the flora and fauna of the Southwest — in particular the giant Saguaro cacti and the raw beauty of the Sonoran desert. The result was a 25-minute piece aptly titled “Opus Cactus.”

Later, Pendleton expanded the piece for MOMIX, the innovative dance troupe he founded 37 years ago. With a photographer’s eye, the artistic director created illusions of slithering Gila monsters, needle-sharp prickly pears, sunlight and shadow dancing across the desert and, of course, the stately Saguaro. Poetry in motion, the imagery of the splendor of the desert is a blend of modern dance, rhythmic gymnastics, ballet, acrobatics and fire dancing.

MOMIX will present "Opus Cactus" at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 1, at the Craterian Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford. Tickets are $32, $35 or $38, $22, $25 or $28 for ages 22 and younger, and can be purchased at craterian.org, at the box office, 16 S. Bartlett St., or by calling 541-779-3000.

Pendleton describes the ingenious use of costuming, props, light, music and the human form as aesthetic alchemy.

Native American drumming sets “Opus Cactus” in motion.

But because Pendleton imagined deserts worldwide, including the Gobi, Sahara and Australian Outback, the symphony also features Arabic music, aboriginal instruments, African drumming and a choir of voices from around the world.

Inspired by nature, Pendleton says the piece reflects the harmony between non-human and human.

An award-winning, published photographer and self-proclaimed daydreamer, Pendleton's piece reflects images he has captured and scenes he’s imagined.

"Opus Cactus,” like most of Pendleton’s productions, is a stream of consciousness.

"There is no story with a beginning or an end.”

It’s a series of surreal vignettes within a fantasy world … a walk in the desert, he explains.

Pendleton has been one of America’s most innovative and widely performed choreographers and directors for more than 40 years. A co-founder of the ground-breaking Pilobolus Dance Theater in 1971, he formed MOMIX in 1980.

Known internationally for inventiveness and physical beauty, MOMIX tours worldwide and is featured in film and on television. Most recently, the troupe appeared in a national commercial for Hanes and a Target ad that premiered during the airing of the 67th annual Golden Globe Awards.

Pendleton admits MOMIX is quite a different take on dance. The manipulation of props, costumes and the human body conjures up what he calls dance illusions.

"The choreography explores new means of locomotion and emotion,” he says.

As a young man, Pendleton spent time in Portland. He skied the slopes of Mount Hood and raced in downhill competitions there. He enrolled in Dartmouth College to work with U.S. Nordic coach Al Merl. In those days, the Dartmouth Ski Team played soccer as part of the training and conditioning program. During a practice, he broke his leg for the second time — the first was a skiing accident. As part of his physical therapy, he enrolled in a dance class.

"I became enamored with dance and my dance instructor,” he says. "She encouraged the dancers to not only dance, but to make dance.”

Choreographers, he says, make poems with their bodies.

Pendleton’s aspirations to become an Olympic skier were dashed, but ironically, it was his choreography that took him to the Olympics, not just once, but twice. He choreographed the closing ceremonies for the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid and the opening ceremonies for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

"In life, there is often a series of accidents, and you have to improvise,” he says.

And, in improvisation, there are surprises — both in life and in the dance, he adds.

'Opus Cactus' another take on dance