Momix founder Moses Pendleton digs deep for ‘Botanica’ inspiration

Momix’s “Botanica” incorporates a variety of special effects to create the likeness of the four seasons in nature. There is the lighting and mirrors used to create illusions on stage. There are the costumes used to transform dancers into all sorts of flora and fauna. And then there’s the sewer pipes and spray-painted petticoats used to conjure images of worms and marigolds.

“Botanica,” a 20-plus vignette conjuring the life cycles seen in nature, is loosely based on the four seasons, said Momix founder and choreographer Moses Pendleton. It will open the Penn State Center for Performing Arts’ 2013-14 performance schedule.

In “Botanica,” the seasons aren’t just represented by the changing of the leaves; it’s about a chilly white sheer wind blowing through tree’s limbs; a family of animals waking from slumber; the newfound energy and burst of life found by even the smallest organism; flowers fluttering in the breeze and shy buds bursting forth; bare limbs blowing in a howling wind; and the erratic behavior by sinewy insects.

“For me, as a director of all of this, I take great pains with sound, lighting and costumes. It has to blend together and work as an experience,” Pendleton said.

From an early age, Pendleton was fascinated by beauty and movement found in the natural world. He was born and raised on a farm and attended college to study romantic poetry, literature and screenwriting. The self-described “avant gardener” said some of the numbers in “Botanica” were inspired by his hobby of growing “fields and fields” of sunflowers and marigolds.

Everyday items are reappropriated as worms and plants.

For the flower dance, he said, “We piled on several petticoats and painted them orange” to establish a marigold theme.

For another scene, he and his team picked up items from the local hardware store and outfitted the dancers with plumbing supplies.

“We free associate with sewer pipes ... and turn them into some nightcrawlers and get a new movement sense and visual (reminiscent of) late March and the sub-soil, worms are turning the soil to give birth to the new buds,” he said.

A trailer for “Botanica” revealed a surreal performance of dancers’ fluid movements while donning simple leotards and others decked out in the homemade props.

“We use lights, costume and props to create a spectacle,” Pendleton said. “The props connect the human and non human. It’s more of a painterly, sculptural approach. In ‘Botanica’s’ case, the theme is gardens, flowers, the natural world and how the human relates to it in a dance theater form. There’s lots of sensual magic and optical confusions.”

Each vignette is matched with music by notable composers such as Vivaldi and Peter Gabriel, the call of nature segues one scene into another.

“I use a lot of bird songs,” Pendleton said. “Those who might know their bird songs will know what happens next.

Part of the fun of a Momix performance is catching the audience off-guard, Pendleton said, such as with a number between a dancer and a mirror, or a scene involving a dinosaur skeleton.

“You have to suspend your belief a bit and allow for the dreamscape to happen,” he added. “What we do is not about showing how the world is, but how the world might be. I’m more interested in fantasy, in the imagined world.”