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Flash Review 1, 7-20: Dizygotic
Pilobolus Too Takes the Front Seat
By Rosa Mei
Copyright 2001 Rosa Mei
A pair of dizygotic two-egg twins
were spotted at the Joyce Theater this past Wednesday afternoon. Not identical,
but a he and a she hatched from the same DNA. He is Adam Battelstein. She is Rebecca
Stenn. Together they make Pilobolus Too, a finely honed, megawatt duo dancing
to the hilt in a few old school Pilobolus pieces (organic, protean leotard dances)
as well as more recent additions such as „Femme Noireš (1999). Conceived in 1996
as a way to serve smaller and less equipped venues, PTOO, as it has been affectionately
dubbed, is by no means a second-tier company. In fact, it's more like a special
deluxe edition, champagne for the masses. This is due, in no small part, to the
choice of repertory and the magical performers. While watching them, the viewer
must pay heed to two fundamental facts: 1) Rebecca Stenn was a sea anemone in
a former lifetime and 2) Kids love, and I mean LOVE, watching Adam Battelstein
fall to the ground.
The new Pilobolus Too program, which
premiered Wednesday afternoon and repeats July 25, features two primo plant-inspired
pieces from the 1970s, "Alraune" and "Shizen," both choreographed by Alison Chase
and Moses Pendleton. (Chase is the principal Pilobolus director in charge of PTOO.)
Old-school Pilobolus where the limb of one dancer grafts itself onto the torso
of another and, voila! -- a tuber or insect-creature. Neil Peter Jampolis‚s atmospheric
lighting casts shadows just so to smudge the lines between the bodies and create
a sense of eeriness as the knotted-up roots expand.
"Alraune," named after a thick, fleshy
night shadow plant used both as a charm and poison, blends beauty with acerbity
with the subtlety of incense. When the partners are tangled together as one, he
manipulates her head, detaches it from her body. When they separate physically,
they maintain a joint identity. She whispers to him and tosses him aside, a scene
from Codependents Anonymous, but when their bodies touch they mesh into a perfectly
curved arch. Tough love. Strong roots.
"Shizen" depicts a world of heightened
sensitivity. The Japanese word for nature, "Shizen" translates literally as "self-created."
Grafted together like a symmetrical bonsai, Stenn and Battelstein seamlessly morph
from one shape to another with harmonious languor. They seem to sense each other's
presence not just by touch but through pheromones. Like Indian cave temple figures,
these two creatures exude sensuality, -- part human, part celestial, perpetually
engaged in mystic contemplation. Zen and the art of shape shifting.
The shifting shapes of feminine mystique
served as themes for the 1999 "Femme Noire," choreographed by Chase in collaboration
with Stenn and Rebecca Anderson Darling, and Chase and Pendleton‚s 1978 "Moonblind."
Decked out in a long, lacy black gown and a ridiculously wide-brimmed hat, Stenn,
as the preening dame in "Femme Noire," is all curves and seduction. She flaunts
her ability to wear a hat with such a grossly exaggerated brim; she's a femme
fatale with "hattitude." Stenn conceals her face for most of the piece, heightening
the sense of mystery hovering about her. She could be an eccentric heiress, party
hostess, world traveler, or just a sassy gal in need of perpetual wooing. Men
would be lining the block for a kiss from this spider woman. When we finally do
see her face, though, somehow the mystery is broken. The sight gags seep out and
we're left with a half-made Mame.
"Moonblind" offers a more incisive
depiction of feminine wile and fancy. We see a character at one moment enchanted
by her own effortless poise then aghast at her bodily contortions. She gathers
her long hair together and holds it tightly above her head. Pagan ritual or another
form of preening? She tries to play the sleazy seductress (sax music goading her
on) but trips on her own guilelessness.
The characters in "Tarleton's Resurrection,"
"Solo from the Empty Suitor" and "Excerpts from Land's Edge" translate this type
of innocence into small fairy tales. Choreographic efforts of the Pilobolus directorate
which also includes Robbie Barnett, Jonathan Wolken, and Michael Tracey, in collaboration
with various dancers, they are populated by the earthly wanderers, the vagabonds
of some bygone era looking for love and happy salvation. In all three pieces,
Battelstein goes for broke with his impeccable comic timing. As the Empty Suitor,
he balances on rolling pipes, tangles himself in a bench and falls repeatedly
to the ground in a hopeless search for physical and spiritual balance. The kids
in the audience couldn't stop laughing. Like I said, they LOVE watching Battelstein
fall to the ground. These fairy tale dances play like small ditties. Nothing particularly
profound, but good-hearted, crowd-pleasing stuff.
The best reason, though, to see Pilobolus
Too is Stenn and Battelstein's unique chemistry, dizygotic perhaps. Performers
this gracious and talented are a rare find indeed. You get the added perk of trippy
transcendental bass guitar interludes by Jay Weissman between pieces. Truly the
Pilobolus Too performs again at the
Joyce Theater July 25 at 2 p.m. only. For more information, please visit the
Joyce web site.
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