Funny, mind-bending and sometimes weird, Pilobolus never fails to astound audiences with its ability to create movements and formations that stretch our understanding of human forms and capabilities.

On Friday evening at Merrill Auditorium in Portland in a program presented by Portland Ovations, the company impressed with creations that affirmed its reputation as a performance-art pioneer, including the blended bodily shapes of one of its earliest works, “Ocellus” (1972) and the “Transformation” excerpt from “Shadowland” (2009), a last-minute substitution.

Program opener “Automaton” (2012) was interesting for its exploration of mechanism evolving into lyricism, as the dancers segued from representing robotic humanity and actual machines into self-awareness and sensual interaction. Large mirrors were effective as the catalyst for personalization, as three of the dancers examined themselves with fascination, as if for the first time, before extending their interest to their companions.

Unfortunately, through a substantial portion of the piece, the mirrors – which were used actively throughout the choreography – were picking up lights and reflecting them blindingly into the audience. This problem seemed to be resolved as the piece progressed.

Pilobolus’ original renown stemmed from the elastic, athletic permutations on display in pieces such as “Ocellus.” Here the bodies are winding around one another in a wonderful array of hitherto unimagined shapes, and the seemingly impossible slow-motion leaps, stretches, flips and rolls that stretched our definitions of dance in the 1970s. The piece was both choreographed and scored (in ghostly sound reminiscent of whales’ voices) by founders of the company, and it was performed admirably on Friday by Benjamin Coalter, Matt Del Rosario, Nile Russell and Mike Tyus.

Much of the company’s 21st-century fame stems from its shadow dancing, which has been performed at the Academy Awards and many other venues, including theaters throughout the world. “Transformation” begins with a giant arm reaching out to a girl in silhouette. After a few pokes and tickles, the hand seems to envelop her and change her into a dog, and then back into a girl with a dog’s head. Then, the arm shrinks and a solid man’s figure gives her a hobo’s stick preparatory to the journey of the larger piece, and then re-enlarges and flies toward the audience. Friday, as always, the illusion was stunning.

Rather less inspiring was a new composition, “[esc],” a 2013 collaboration with illusionists Penn & Teller. To Teller’s voice-over, the performers re-enacted escape artists’ feats. With volunteers from the audience employed to verify authenticity, they were locked in a box, tied up and zipped into a duffel bag, chained to a stripper’s pole and duct-taped to a chair.

Each escape was effectively executed, with humor when the bagged dancer emerged in newly donned silk pajamas and Eriko Jimbo exchanged places – and clothing – with the boxed Coalter on his emergence, and some intricate gymnastics from Shawn Fitzgerald Ahern and Del Rosario as they moved up and down the pole unwinding their chains.

Nonetheless, “[esc]” seemed out of place, even for a genre-bending troupe like Pilobolus. Additionally, watching Jordan Kriston (the only female dancer besides Jimbo) being duct-taped to a chair was somewhat disconcerting, and a plastic bag placed over her head went a step too far for some audience members (multiple whisperers could be heard saying, “I don’t like that”).

The program closed with the frenetic “Megawatt” (2004), a festival of constant movement. Dancers flew and dropped, leaping and rolling in brilliant unison and counterpoint. Just as pieces like “Ocellus” reveal these athletes’ strength in impossible-seeming elasticity and control, “Megawatt” reveals it in flight and energy.

Between the dance pieces were short films, alternately funny (geometric duplications of moving images from the 1950s and ’60s), silly (a soda can cut by a chainsaw), and lovely (choreographed kites flying above a city park in lyrical swoops and landings).

Although there were a few sour notes, in general Pilobolus did what it has always done best: provided accessible entertainment with a mix of athleticism, artistry and provocation and precious interludes of awe.

Jennifer Brewer is a freelance writer who lives in Saco.