This stop on the troupe’s nationwide tour — Pilobolus’ first visit since 2010, courtesy of Pittsburgh Dance Council — is also a homecoming for Murrysville native Nathaniel Buchsbaum, a member of the Shadowland cast since 2012.
While it has been entertaining audiences across Europe since it premiered, in 2009, Shadowland didn’t debut in North American until 2015. Why the delay? Buchsbaum, speaking by phone from a tour stop in Charleston, S.C., suggests that reasons include the success of the show abroad and a desire to avoid competing with the venerable, Connecticut-based Pilobolus’ regular U.S. repertory company.
Shadowland was created in collaboration with Steven Banks, the lead writer of TV’s SpongeBob SquarePants. The 75-minute dance-theater piece, set to original music by David Poe, combines projected shadow play, multimedia, circus arts, dance and more to tell the surreal story of a young girl’s dream of a sensational world as she comes of age. To portray figures from that dream, performers contort their bodies into shadow configurations of airplanes, elephants, flowers and more.
Buchsbaum says he will perform several roles in the Pittsburgh premiere, from a chef to various shadow creatures. He describes his indoctrination into the show as a trial by fire. He and another new dancer “got the barebones structure of the show in Connecticut [Pilobolus’ home base] and then flew to Europe. Within three weeks of performances adding us in scene by scene, we were fully integrated into the show,” says Buchsbaum.
In her 2015 review, the New York Times’ Siobhan Burke described one sequence in Shadowland: “A teenage girl lost in a dark dream, she’s at the mercy of a mysterious giant who, with the rustle of one imposing hand, turns her into a dog from the waist up. Both before and after this transformation, she is chased, threatened, prodded, eaten, humiliated, even tied up and whipped.”
While the show’s target audience skews more mature than that of SpongeBob SquarePants, “It’s definitely a family-friendly show,” says Buchsbaum. “We get a lot of kids and adults who really enjoy it.”