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New York City Ballet - In All Directions â€" the All-Feld Program

by Richard Penberthy
April 29, 2006
Lincoln Center
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All-Feld Program, first night of The Diamond Project 2006
Saturday night, April 29, was kick-off night for The Diamond Project, which brings to New York City Ballet seven choreographers, some familiar and some not so familiar to the NYCB audience. First up, in an all-Feld evening was Eliot Feld, with old and new works and two world premiers.

"Intermezzo No. 1", of 1969 vintage, choreographed to the Brahms piano work (played by Cameron Grant) of the same title, began the evening. Three couples â€" in romantic costumes of black, plum, and dark red â€" worked for the most part within a traditional ballet vocabulary. It is interesting to look back in time to see that even so early in his career, Mr. Feld had incorporated wit and irreverence in his dances. In one clever pas de deux, Jennifer Ringer barely succeeds in getting Charles Askegard to partner her, so engrossed is he by his spotlight. There was a time, not so very long after this piece was created, that balletomanes moaned, "Oh no, not another piano ballet!" But they were clearly not referring to this one. This ballet, dusted with playfulness, was a welcoming gesture, a comforting beginning.

"The Unanswered Question", from 1988, danced to excerpts of no fewer than nine Charles Ives compositions (Arturo Delmoni, solo violin, and Alan Moverman, solo piano, are featured with the orchestra), brought us up to 1988, twenty years further along in Mr. Feld's career. This is a slightly eerie ballet, dreamlike and bright as a child's daydream, Chagall-like, and made all the more so by imaginative lighting from Allen Lee Hughes, It skates along on fantasy while skirting â€" sometimes just barely â€" the uncomfortable surreal. It is complex and layered, with glorious lighting effects and with dancers making magical trapdoor exits and entrances. The costumes (by Willa Kim) feature a sophisticated palette, slashes of bright, saturated color alongside pastels. And, they are clever, referential. A ballerina's headdress with its luna-moth scroll echoes the clef motif that sparkles on the back of a dancer's costume, making of his torso the sound box of a violin. Tyler Angle, in white, emerges as something of ringmaster, a constant. And, Antonio Carmena â€" an Ariel figure, or sprite, perhaps â€" wears a headpiece that seems both Sioux headdress and crown.

This is one of Mr. Feld's "properties" dances, incorporating items that Mr. Feld choreographs around. The dance begins with Adam Hendrickson lying on and slowly rolling about the stage on the hollow cylinder of a snare drum, without drumheads, brandishing drumsticks. At stage right sits a silvery, bright sousaphone, its coil extended upward from the flare. When the drum bounces against it, the horn rises, showing itself to be the headpiece of dancer Charles Askegard. The outlandishly large sousaphone, worn as a hat, examples the very spirit, the slightly untethered aura, of this dance. Together in very slow motion, the drum rolls and the sousaphone dances, or rather its bearer does. Mr. Feld's properties eventually include a huge tricycle with a tiny front wheel and two huge back wheels, sparkling and silvery. The cycle must be steered and danced on (sometimes by two dancers) and somehow be kept from plunging over the edge of the stage (slow-motion notwithstanding) at the same time. It is a delightful dance, and it ends as eerily as it began: the curtain simply lowers as the ringmaster is prone at the trapdoor, reaching down as if to bring up yet another wonderful character.

"Backchat" was premiered at The Joyce Theater by Mr. Feld in October, 2004. Centered on a plain stage is a vertical wall that serves as a climbing wall, like those featured in the more spacious gymnasia and amusement parks, though it lacks hand and foot holds. Three dancers, Adrian Danchig-Waring, Craig Hall, and Andrew Veyette, wearing gloves and gym gear, approach the wall from behind and one by one somersault over and cling to the edge, hanging against the vertical surface. They climb down, up, sideways, and diagonally along it. Their "steps" require considerable upper body strength â€" they are as often sideways-to as they are back-to the audience. When they occasionally descend to the floor, the wall remains their focus, as they strain against it with drill-team-precise gestures and what can be characterized as upright tumbling. The art of this dance relies on patterning and precision as the dancers move in sequence or in unison within very limited space (the wall appears to be only about seven feet wide and tall). Eedweard Muybridge's photographs, stop-action frames of bodies in motion, come to mind as the dancers move one after another into a single, held pose. It is exhausting to watch. This dance, along with "A Stair Dance", which ends the evening, requires NYCB dancers to adopt a very different aesthetic in their performances.

"Etoile Polaire" (the North Star), a world premier on Saturday night, is a long solo performed by Kaitland Gilliland to 1970's music of Philip Glass. Costumed plainly in black, Ms. Gilliland danced magnetically and unflaggingly. She is marvelous. Her dancing enthralled the audience â€" the trusty North Star, the navigator's essential â€" with turns and arabesques and perfect pointe work. Mark Stanley's lighting colorfully and beautifully represented the whole of a day â€" dawn to dark.

"Ugha Bugha", another world premier, featured a guest dancer, Wu-Kang Chen, from Feld's Ballet Tech, who performed to John Cage music performed by the four musicians from So Percussion. Mr. Chen was costumed in black, but with shiny tubes sewn in rows onto the front of his tights. The percussionists in the orchestra pit are remarkable. But, alas, the dance, even though it is energetic, and involves somersaults and gymnastics, ultimately seems very, very long and pointless. If the costume is meant to echo the bell dancers (in both an acoustic and in a visual way) of the Plains Indians, there is too little of that heartbeat rhythm to make the point. Having what appear to be tin cans sewn onto a costume brings to mind 1950's weddings and cars with "Just Married" signs affixed to the bumper.

"A Stair Dance", like "Backchat", was premiered by Mr. Feld at the Joyce in the fall of 2004. It is great fun. Five staircases are brought to center stage and are arranged facing the audience, zig-zagged so that the second and fourth are recessed by the depth of one tread from the others. The music is Steve Reich's Tokyo/Vermont Counterpoint, played by James Baker. The dancers, Ellen Bar, Adrian Danchig-Waring, Robert Fairchild, Sean Suozzi, and Giovanni Villalobos, ascend, descend, crab-walk, sidestep and bound up and down the staircases in patterns. They personify the phrase "loosen up!"

Eliot Feld is an interesting choreographer to feature first for this spring's Diamond Project. He is both familiar and experimental, and his work both draws on the strengths of the NYCB dancers and makes new demands on them. Mr. Feld notes in the program that The Diamond Project allows the dancers to have "interesting flings." They clearly enjoyed themselves.
Kaitlyn Gilliand in Etoile Polaire

Kaitlyn Gilliand in Etoile Polaire

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Kolnik


Kaitlyn Gilliland in Etoile Polaire

Kaitlyn Gilliland in Etoile Polaire

Photo © & courtesy of Paul Kolnik

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