Dancers shape next Celebrity Series show

While entertainers usually prefer the spotlight, Adam Battelstein spends most of his time in the shadows.

As founder, director and choreographer of the Catapult shadow dance troupe, Battelstein creates the “magic moments” that took the performers to the finals of “America’s Got Talent.”

In updated versions, some of those works are also part of a tour that brings Catapult to New Wilmington Oct. 11 as part of Westminster College’s Celebrity Series.

Battelstein began his journey into the shadows as 19-year member of the Pilobolus Dance Theatre, prior to forming Catapult in 2009. After about four years of doing primarily corporate events, he received a call from “America’s Got Talent.”

“I never told them I never saw the show,” Battelstein said with a laugh.

Catapult ended up performing four times during the eighth season of the popular NBC series, making it to the final 12 before being eliminated. Shortly after those appearances, Battelstein was approached by German producers about doing a touring production.

“Most of what we’d been doing was messages for corporations, not for the public,” he said. “We had less than 10 minutes with everything we did on ‘America’s Got Talent.’ They wanted a 90-minute show and we had nine minutes.”

Given only two months before Catapult was supposed to begin touring, Battelstein recalled, “I almost said no, but decided to take a leap of faith. We worked six or seven days a week until nine or 10 at night.”

For the tour, Battelstein took three of the four pieces Catapult had performed on TV and expanded them, as well as added new material including a popular 16-minute work set to Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.”

“On ‘America’s Got Talent’ we had nine seconds to tell a story. It had to be precise,” Battelstein explained. “Telling long-form stories was a challenge.”

After four years of touring Europe with the new “collection of short stories,” Catapult brought its show to the U.S. where they have been been on the road for about a year. In addition, the Connecticut-based Catapult continues to do corporate events, relying on a corps of freelance dancers.

“That way we can expand and contract as needed,” said Battelstein who sometimes fills in when a dancer is unable to make a performance.

Between all of the performances, Battelstein also created a new work commissioned by the Mozart Festival in Salzburg, Germany, slated to debut at the event in January. It’s the first Catapult piece to have words.

“Until now, we’ve worked with images and music, which we could perform anywhere in the world with no language barriers,” Battelstein explained. “The words give it a different take.”

Noting that other shadow dance groups have emerged since Catapult’s TV appearances, Battlestein said, “I guess we kind of launched a genre and they say imitation is the highest form of flattery, but I still think we and Pilobolus do it best.

“It’s not something you can copyright, but it’s something that’s so easy to do badly, and then it looks like a bad high school performance,” Battlestein said, adding that one of his favorite shadow formations is a penguin.

“We still don’t have a kangaroo,” Battelstein lamented. “The thing with shadows is that some of the things that look like they’d be easy really aren’t. It’s harder to make a frog than a dog or an elephant.

“The shadow world is kind of weird,” he continued. “But it’s really cool the moment when it all comes together.”

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