Pilobolus dance troupe co-founder dies at age 60 Jonathan Wolken named innovative company for a barnyard fungus
Jonathan Wolken named innovative company for a barnyard fungus
By definition, pilobolus is a phototropic zygomycete, a sun-loving fungus that grows in barnyards and pastures. While small, it can throw its spores some eight feet.
Mr. Wolken, 60, died June 13 at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York following complications from a stem cell transplant.
The dance company he helped form in 1971 -- Pilobolus Dance Troupe -- continues on, with major national and international touring companies.
"Jonathan and I worked together for almost 40 years," Robby Barnett, Pilobolus artistic director, said Monday. "Our lives were entwined both personally and professionally in a symmetrical way. Jonathan took up a lot of space and he's not going to be easily replaced."
In a 2006 interview with The News-Times, Mr. Wolken had spoken about Pilobolus, based in Washington Depot, and its collaborators' creative vision for the troupe.
"Pilobolus is an idea, a wellspring, drawing from theater and movement, making an exciting amalgam of these things," he said then. "The litmus test is to ask, `What can we make that is interesting enough to sit and watch?' "
Pilobolus started when Mr. Wolken and fellow Dartmouth student Moses Pendleton -- both relatively unfamiliar with dance at the time -- began exploring movement. Mr. Pendleton went on to form the modern dance/illusionist company Momix.
Contacted at his Washington home this week, Mr. Pendleton declined comment for this story.
Pilobolus' current artistic directors, Robby Barnett and Michael Tracy, were also with Pilobolus from its inception.
Members of the company are renown for their athleticism, inventiveness and spirit of collaborative creativity.
"The dancers are not just clay, shaped into a form," Mr. Wolken said in 2006. "Their performance is not just body manipulation. It has an emotional impact, an ability to produce evocative images."
He danced with the company into the early 1980s. After that he was one of the four artistic directors.
The Pilobolus Institute was started in 1991. An educational outreach program that uses choreography as a model for creative thinking in any field, it travels throughout the country and does educational programs for television.
The Pilobolus Institute also maintains an ongoing residency in the theater studies program at Yale University in New Haven.
Mr. Wolken is survived by his wife, JoAnne Torti, executive director of the After School Arts Program based in Washington, and four daughters -- Sarah, Alyssa, Jenna and Emily.
Pilobolus has a commemorative review of Mr. Wolken's accomplishments on its website, www.pilobolus.com.