Tell one of Catapult's dancers that they are mere shadows of themselves and you'd be paying them the highest compliment.

Trust us on that one.

The mysterious troupe, whose movements are projected as magical silhouettes against a giant screen, will be materializing on the stage of the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Well, materializing isn't quite the right way to put it, though.

Constantly morphing might be more accurate, as the eight shadow-dancers are continually, fluidly bending their bodies and limbs into living-breathing re-presentations of every manner of flora and fauna.

From crabs to frogs to flowers to trees to multiple species beyond.

The BCPA show, we're told, will be only the third time that Catapult has been, well, hurled onto an American stage.

Group founder/director/producer/choreographer/"laundry-doer" Adam Battelstein says that, until this fall, the troupe's live touring has been through Europe ... despite the fact that Catapult got a huge stateside unveiling as contestants on the eighth season of "America's Got Talent" four years ago.

They performed four times over the course of their competition winning standing ovations from Howie, Howard and the gang.

"That was the thing that launched us, catapulted us, if you will ... directly from 'America's Got Talent' to Germany," Battelstein says. "I don't know how many Germans saw us on the show, but we've now got this big following in both there and in Italy."

Battelstein created the troupe after he split off from Pilobolus, the renowned troupe we've seen everywhere from Oprah to the Oscars, and which helped pioneer the concept of shadow dancing.

"A group of us within the company stumbled upon this technique of creating shadows out of human bodies, as opposed to puppets, which is an ancient art form, as is shadows made from hands and fingers. It's really just a twist on a very old art form."

The difference was the idea of using multiple bodies to create a single shape via the use of projected light and screen.

"I didn't invent this by myself," says Battelstein. "It was a collaborative effort within the company. Sometimes these incredible discoveries come from letting the group brain exhibit its genius."

After leaving Pilobolus, that concept shadowed Battelstein into his endeavor as the leader of his own company that would market itself as a corporate tool, creating short minute-long pieces designed to brand or sell a product or concept.

But ever so artfully.

"Shadow dance is the most commonly employed term. But it's not just dance, it really is a combination of dance and theater and sculpture," says Battelstein, whose mother was a sculptor and who began his creative life as an actor before moving into the dance world.

"From the audience's point of view, it's not like being at a dance concert where you can't tell a story they way you can in theater because there are no words."

He likens the effect as "a little like film, in that when I want to cut from one scene to another, I'm thinking in terms of narrative, an easy way to make a transition from one moment to another, where the transition itself is part fo the storytelling."

That transition, he says, manifests itself in the way the eight dancers "transform from one shape to another in a way that has meaning and content as well as form."

For example, one of Catapult's signature pieces involves a rocket trip to the moon.

"We form a NASA rocket ship ... as we can't fly, we show the rocket slowly transform into a lunar landing module as the surface of the moon comes up as a background slide," says Battelstein.

"The way we transition from rocket to lunar lander gives the audience the sense that not only are we telling a story about going to the moon, but we also give the sense of weightlessness, that gravity has disappeared."

Through it all, as in every Catapult piece, "the human body transcends the verbal, and because of that we can perform for any audience in the world without a communication barrier."

To do that, Catapult dancers "have to be more full-body than dancers in their emotional responses."

For a show predicated entirely on light and shadow, "it's not as technical as you might think," says Battelstein of the set-up that involves canny use of projected light and rear-screen projection.

"Really, that's about it," he says.

The magic comes from the amorphous bodies behind the screen, melting into each other en masse to form everything from a celebration of the seasons, "Four Seasons," set to Vivaldi's music, to the life story of a young girl's journey from childhood to adulthood, culminating in romance and marriage.

"People get excited by seeing all these things changing from one thing to another, but they are also moved by the stories ... and that's why we try to get the acting of the moments as authentic as we can."

Even if they are only shadows of themselves.

Dan Craft is Pantagraph entertainment editor. He can be reached at 309-829-9000, Ext. 259 or via email at dcraft@pantagraph.com 

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