NEW YORK, Jul 30, 2001 (United Press International via COMTEX)--The Pilobolusdance company, which has triedthe quirky, creepy, sexy and witty in the course of its 30-year history as oneof the nation's foremost moderndance groups, is currently exploring spiritual themes drawn from a variety ofreligions and cultures.

In its current season at the Joyce Theater in Manhattan's Chelsea district, thePilobolus dancers areperforming works rooted in the Jewish faith, Hinduism, Buddhism and severalreligious sources not as easilyidentified. Altogether, 11 dance works are included in three programs.

The company, which prefers to call itself an organism, grew out of dance classesat Dartmouth College inHanover, N.H., adopting a collaborative process of choreography and an approachto partnering that made nodistinctions as to male and female. It won immediate acclaim for an inventiveand humorous approach to dancethat was unique in the early 1970s.

Pilobolus members have provided choreography for more than 80 dance numbers andalso manage and publicizetheir own programs, which its touring companies have performed on stage andtelevision nationally andinternationally. Pilobolus' physical vocabulary has strongly influenced severalother dance companies, and itsdance works have been absorbed into the repertoires of the Feld and Joffreycompanies, Ohio and ArizonaBallets, and dance groups in France and Italy.

Most important of the works being presented at the Joyce is "Davenen" (a wordmeaning "prayer" in Yiddish),commissioned by the National Foundation for Jewish Culture. It is performed bysix dancers in pajama-likecostumes and danced to the robust, strongly Mideastern klezmer music (Jewishfolk music) of Frank Londonperformed live by the Klezmatics.

The dancers cling together in a group as though finding strength in numbers,then advance as individuals withheads bobbing back and forth and bodies rocking in the traditional ritual ofJewish prayer. The choreographybecomes increasingly complex as the dancers rejoin in various combinations asthe frenzy of their devotionmounts.

Finally the dancers are thrashing about on the floor, contorting their bodiesand attempting to overwhelm oneanother in symbolic combat with strong spiritual forces. It may not be atraditional view of prayer aspracticed by Jews, but it is a powerful one that a critic for a Chicagonewspaper found not onlycontroversial, but distasteful.

This critic wrote that the dancers depicted "brutes, perverts and dementedworshipers" who evoke the currentchaos in Israel by emphasizing the ferocity of Old Testament stories. Sincenothing could be further from thecompany's intentions, Pilobolus now prints explanatory notes on "Davenen" in itsperformance programs, notingthat it had relied on such sources as the Kabbalah and author Isaac BashevisSinger for inspiration.

Another work with distinct spiritual overtones is "Monkey and the White BoneDemon," a comedic take on thelegend of the heroic but mischievous monkey king extant in Buddhist myths, Hinduepics and Chinese opera.Pilobolus condenses the tale of how the monkey saves a Buddhist monk and otherpilgrims from the many-guisedWhite Bone Demon who is finally killed by being pierced through with thepilgrims' walking staffs.

The lesson to be learned from this number is that things are not always whatthey appear to be, a warning tothe faithful to be on guard against demons and other enemies who would lure themto damnation. The admonitorywork's musical background includes as wailing Japanese flute, and rock and popmusic for the battle sceneagainst the demon who appears in the form of a giant crustacean on stilt-likelegs.

Spirituality and sex make for titillating entertainment in a Hindu-based worktitled "Tantra Aranea," in whichtwo dancers assume the ecstatic embraces of Shiva and his consort with movementsattuned to a taped collage ofIndian and Persian music. In the end the scarlet-clad goddess strides away fromher prone and enfeebled loverlike one of those female insects that devours the male in the course of mating.

Other dazzlers on the Pilobolus program are "Tsu-Ku-Tsu" involving totemiccombinations of dancers carryingother dancers to a thunderous score by Leonard Eto, "Femme Noire" depicting ablack-gowned diva assumingvarious preening poses for a photographer to a piano score by Paul Sullivan, and"Sweet Dreams," asurrealistic, dream-like number involving two lovers and the moon.

Dancers for "Davenen" are Otis Cook, Josie Coyoc, Renee Jaworski, Matt Kent,Gaspard Louis and BenjaminPring."Monkey and the White Demon" stars Pring as the monkey and Kent as thedemon. "Tantra Aranea" is dancedby Coyoc and Kent and "Femme Noire" has Jaworski in the title role.

Costumes of unfailing novelty and fantasy are the work of Angelina Avallone, andSteven Strawbridge and NeilPeter Jampolis are the company's expert lighting designers. Backdrop designersinclude Ru Wang and MauriceSendak, who designed a town aflame for "A Selection," a work with a Holocausttheme.

Since 1991, Pilobolus has conducted an educational outreach program through itsPilobolus Institute, providing35 weeks a year of programming and workshops in American schools, colleges anduniversities and a residency intheater studies at Yale University. Another arm, Pilobolus Creative Services,generates original work forcorporation commercials, television, film, and opera.

The entire operation has its headquarters in Washington Depot, Conn.