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Flash Review 1, 7-20: Dizygotic Deluxe
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 deluxe edition.

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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