In it, the Faun represents the rules-free, hedonistic child of nature that crouches within most of us, and in three duets, he brings that out in a ballet dancer (Lucie Baker); Dr. A., a noted orthopedic surgeon (Donald Kollisch, an actual doctor); and Dr. B., his younger colleague (Emily Pope-Blackman). But the Faun is also, briefly, a patient (Dr B. plans an operation to stretch his Achilles tendon). So is the ballerina, who tears her Achilles tendon right in front of us, while performing a sylphide’s jetés battus and pas de chats in full costume—tutu, pointe shoes, wings. And one of the most dreamlike thing about the piece is the way the text and action and characters move fluidly between designer Robert Eggers’s lightly misted birch grove—with rocks and a high grassy ledge that allude to the 1912 ballet—and the “hospital” that comes into prominence when the performers draw a white curtain to hide the woodland scene.

We get a lot of medical information. Drs. A. and B. spell each other at a lectern during what purport to be three sessions of a professional conference on the Achilles tendon. A major collaborator during the piece’s development was Dr. Philip Bauman, orthopedic surgeon for both the New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theater, and Kollisch and Pope-Blackman discourse knowledgably, their speech dense with anatomical, surgical, and pathological terms I don’t know how to spell. However, when they return to the lectern after their respective encounters with Mozgala, their official behavior has, shall we say, “modified.”

The opening solo for the Faun is superb. Sitting, kneeling, or reclining, Mozgala stretches his arms and lithe, muscular torso up from his grass-covered perch. As he twists and arches, he caresses himself and the surrounding air and throws back his head in primal delight. He peers over the edge to watch the sylph perform to music by Sibelius. It’s while flirting with him and getting a bit wild that she falls and calls for the music to stop. The Faun utters the first a several animal cries: “Maaaaaa!”

"The Good Dance—Dakar/Brooklyn" by Reggie Wilson and Andréya Ouamba
Jack Vartoogian
"The Good Dance—Dakar/Brooklyn" by Reggie Wilson and Andréya Ouamba
Gregg Mozgala in Tamar Rogoff’s "Diagnosis of a Faun"
Julie Lemberger
Gregg Mozgala in Tamar Rogoff’s "Diagnosis of a Faun"

Details

The Good DanceóDakar/Brooklyn
BAM Howard Gilman Opera House
December 16 through 19

Tamar Rogoff Performance Projects
La MaMa E.T.C.óThe Ellen Stewart Theatre
December 3 through 20

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In the first hospital scene, while Dr. A. addresses us (his supposed colleagues, and students) about her injury, Baker sits on the floor and removes her pointe shoes, little wings, and tutu, dons hospital garb, and gets into a wheelchair. However, in an interesting twist of reality, she stands and beautifully executes some ballet exercises holding onto the wheelchair, while he struggles to grasp her leg when he can in order to show just how debilitating her injury is.

In discussing the Faun’s case, Dr. B. mentions the difficulty of operating on a patient who’s approximately 5,000 years old, doesn’t speak, and will have to be shaved from waist to, um, hoof. She also attempts to demonstrate his problem while he mischievously and determinedly evades her grasping hands and finally runs back to the woods.

Putting together Diagnosis of a Faun, a profound learning experience for Mozgala and Rogoff, involved a slow process of re-patterning the lack of certain connections between his brain and his lower body and legs, and diffusing their instinct to tense up. Mozgala’s modified disability results in a fascinating characterization. His knees and feet turn in; sometimes he scampers on tiptoe; at other times he runs with big lurching steps or pants his feet in big lunging stamps. My kind of faun.

Almost the second Dr. B. enters the glade, in search of her vanished patient, she starts to turn into a faunette—planting her feet wide apart, bending her knees, and slowly rippling her back the way he does, with a kind of muscular urgency she doesn’t fully understand. One high-heeled shoe comes off, then the other. Before long, Faun and surgeon are engaged in an extremely erotic duet, in which desire and restraint (hers) battle desire and anger.

The surgery on the sylph is even more dreamlike in its curiosities. While Dr. A. describes the operating room procedure, a gurney is wheeled back and forth across the stage, each time revealing the other three superb performers in different positions on the gurney, or pushing it, while the nurse (Pope-Blackman) asks increasingly odd admitting-room questions of both doctor and patient. The actual operation is embodied by the slow, graceful stroking and twisting of Kollisch’s hands in the air near the patient’s foot, seen through a very large standing magnifying glass; a similar glass shows us Baker’s slumbering face. After the operation is completed, a white cloth is stretched in front of the table; Dr. A. slits it with the first surgical knife we’ve seen, and out leaps the ballerina in full costume! A miracle of science to be sure.

There are four more duets. Kollisch is a small compact man with curly gray hair and a substantial mustache, but as Dr. A., he stands in for the Prince in the Adagio of the pas de deux from Sleeping Beauty (to the Tchaikovsky music, of course). He’s not a dancer, but his timing and support of the lovely Baker are admirable (she rewards him with an occasional “good”). Then he has an encounter with the Faun, which he enjoys very much—laughing and prancing and holding up his fingers to mimic the horns that sprout from Mozgala’s forehead. The duet between Baker and Pope-Blackman is an imaginative take on physical therapy. The latter uses crutches to support and enhance her partner’s movement sand wields them briefly herself to imitate the Faun’s horns and the sylph’s wings. The trail she lays on the floor with them leads the recovering dancer to the Faun’s lair.

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