Damn! The kids in Eliot Feld’s Ballet Tech do look smart this season. In fact, it’s time to stop thinking of them as kids just because they come up through Feld’s free Ballet Tech School. The company members are no younger than many other ballet dancers, and their technical growth in one year has been exceptional. Feld made the Bach piece Contra Pose in 1990 for his former company, Feld Ballets/NY. But when 16 Ballet Tech dancers (including apprentices) strut through the ingenious, squeaky-clean contrapuntal patterns of the work, the women on pointe, the men sailing high, you couldn’t ask for a better performance.
It’s also time to stop faulting them as classical dancers. They may have gotten strict ballet training, but Feld’s works these days are rarely balletic. The style involves mobile hips, tricky gestural motifs, leaps with legs spiraling out in the air, wrapping arms, shoulder twitches, the torquing of torso against legs. His dancers play clever games with their own bodies—freezing complicated moves for emphasis—or with one another’s, like the long line of people reclining with legs braided together in Contra Pose. Such designs are also an important part of the 1989 Asia, one of Feld’s orientalist fantasies. To Ravel’s Shéhérazade, Maria Feliciano, Jacquelyn Scafidi, Ha-Chi Yu, and Margaux Zadikian surround the superbly glamorous Patricia Tuthill like shape-shifting golden doors that open to reveal a precious icon to the dreamy, passing-through stranger (Jassen Virolas).
If in Asia the dancers display elegant restraint, in Feld’s rowdier pieces, like the 1996 Paper Tiger to Leon Redbone’s honey-raucous singing of old pop tunes, the only problem is holding them down enough to deliver the necessary nuances of timing. It’s wonderful to watch Zadikian hauling Nickemil Concepcion around by the handles on his costume (“I Hate a Man Like You”) or Concepcion’s ardent leaps in other ballets, and remember the days—not so long ago—when she was about half the size she is now and he looked embarrassed to find himself onstage.
Feld has revamped his pithy 1971 A Soldier’s Tale for Ballet Tech, paring away even more of the rather clumsy scenario attached to Stravinsky’s music. The cast waits at the rear brick wall hung with black panels. A light flashes between scenes as if to play on the term theater of war. The dancing of seven soldiers in Theoni V. Aldredge’s blue uniforms frames an acid tale of temptation and destruction. The raw recruit (apprentice Armand Pretlow, skinny and wonderfully intense) is approached not by the Devil but by a pimp luring him toward two whores who coil around him and send him into battle half-naked and befuddled. With his derby hat and snaky gestures, the pimp (superbly rendered by Virolas) is reminiscent of the Profiteer in Kurt Jooss’s The Green Table, and like that villain, he and his women (Yu and Zadikian) pick the pockets of the fallen.
The “new” company has inspired Feld, and he’s made memorable pieces for it—notably the solo Re:X for the terrific Jason Jordan and Yo Shakespeare, a duet for Jordan and Virolas. I think, however, that the dancers have about outgrown the engaging tomfoolery of last year’s Simon Says, which, programmed with the new FELIX: the ballet, makes for an evening heavy on scene changes, props, and jokes.
FELIX. Hmmm. Funny at times, cluttered, befuddling, infuriating, it’s an assemblage, played at melodrama speed, of playful images with loaded ones. You can go nuts trying to figure out what links them together in Feld’s mind or to decide what he’s debunking. The music is Mendelssohn, and the interesting opening is of a dance pattern being sabotaged by scraps of drama and dancerly mistakes. Then come the exercise balls—so many that some have to be penned in a corner of the audience area and thrown and received by a handler. As they increase in size, so do the complications and perils of those rolling and sliding on them. At the end a red ball so huge it takes several people to maneuver it descends from a sort of shrine at the back. But what about the little foot-powered cars, one of whose drivers has a pig’s snout? The women sporting flippers who swim across on their bellies on wheeled waves? The king in scarlet and ermine? A frowsy-wigged Feld conducting?
Mendelssohn was a Jew. How does this parse with such Wagnerian sights as a Valkyrie and a giant serpent’s tail that enwraps dancers and sucks them offstage? (Wagner was a noted anti-Semite.) And what about goose-stepping soldiers and Marlene Dietrich lolling on an inflatable globe and…? A circus concealing a cause?