Pilobolus Calendar
Robert Whitman and Claire Messud

In their recent exhilarating adventure through the Holy Land, the august but ever-surprising Connecticut-based dance troupe Pilobolus paused in the desert to riff on Picasso's vision: here, the performers in their bright slips of color, range from the pensive to the flirtatious. A dancer in emerald green, held aloft atop a man atop a camel, arches her lovely arms and feet against the naked sky. In the foreground, a muscular man glowers at the camera, while holding the reins of a camel: he looks like Fred Flinstone cinched into a 1980s Thierry Mugler red belt and a bathing cap. To the left of the frame, three dancers cluster in a composition that suggests communion, but a closer glance reveals that each is following his - or her - own trajectory.

They are a vibrant, self-sufficient vision - there is nothing melancholy about them - and they challenge us to see the world (the desert, the camel, themselves) and art (Picasso) anew. This ability to 'make it new' - captured so brilliantly in these photographs by Robert Whitman - is, in fact, vintage Pilobolus. Since 1971, the troupe has been enthralling audiences with their daring and prowess and the breadth of their range. These masters of reinvention often force us to ask where the parameters of the body lie; and in doing so, they prompt bigger questions, too. When two lithe creatures entwine in a glowing ball on the vast boulders of Jerusalem's ancient walls, against a dazzling azure sky, we can't help but see this exotic new being as a comment upon, or even, in some strange language, an answer to, the perilous strife of that place. When, in electric yellow, two dancers form a graceful tower in the vegetable aisle of an Israeli market, surrounded by bemused shoppers, by pale cabbages and vermilion peppers, and by yellow plastic bags the same color as their leotards, their eyes demurely averted, the pair seems quietly to say "Stop. Look. It could be this way. Maybe, although we don't see it, it is always this way."

Like a Magritte painting, there is the image of one lone dancer, his back glinting in the sun, clinging like a baby to the egg-shaped root bulb of a suspended fruit tree. The courtyard around him looks perfectly ordinary; the turquoise shutters in the wall above match his trunks, as if both had been pended, infantilized - the child or the root? - is stranger than fiction. Yet this is no Magritte; this is life. And again, when curled into the bone-like orifice of a stairwell, like some madly colorful marrow, their bodies interwoven and overlapping, the dancers, in the serenity of their expressions, offer us both beauty and the promise of something beautiful: who could help but long for what they have? They offer us an exuberant, weird, mirthful way of moving our unlikely world, of turning it upside down, of seeing it all over again. What more could one ask of art?