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Robert Abrams
Performance Reviews
The Joyce Theater
United States
New York City
New York
New York, NY

Ballet Tech - Pianola: Raven, Endsong, Paper Tiger

by Robert Abrams
March 29, 2003
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at the corner of 19th Street)
New York, NY 10011

Ballet Tech - Pianola: Raven, Endsong, Paper Tiger

Review by Robert Abrams
March 29, 2003

Ballet Tech presented three works tonight at the Joyce Theater in New York.

Pianola: Raven had the look of a Broadway, Fosse style dance, but one in which the dancers were severely agitated. The work was disturbing, in a minimalist way. The music was abrupt, with the notes cut short, played on a computer controlled player piano. The dancing was varied, but the music was mostly on one level. The dancers demonstrated unusual isolations, and purposefully ungainly en pointe work. The movement was rhythmically punctuated, somewhat Latin, especially considering the movement of the dancers' hips.

The work was demanding, well-done, progressive, and educative. I appreciated what Mr. Feld, the choreographer, was trying to do. I admired the dancers' implementation of the choreography. I also found the work to be irritating, more so the longer it went on. While I appreciated it, I can't say that I liked it. Then again, this is modern dance, so not everyone has to like every work a company may present.

Choreography: Eliot Feld (2002). Music: Conlon Nancarrow. Music realized by: Trimpin. Lighting: Allen Lee Hughes. Dancers: Jacquelyn Scafidi, Patricia Tuthill, Ha-chi Yu, Andrea Emmons.

The second act was Endsong. This work employed Mr. Feld's signature shoulder action, if somewhat less often than in Pianola: Raven. Sections of this work flowed like golden wheat, if wheat could run across a field. This work was much more balletic than the previous one. This work had compositional variation both within and between segments.

Endsong was originally choreographed to "Four Last Songs" by Richard Strauss, but permission to perform modern dance to this music was either revoked or never granted by his estate (the program notes were not clear on this point), so the company performed the work in silence. Before the start of this work, I expected this to be a problem. I believe in a necessary relationship between music and dance, and normally I dislike dance works that violate this relationship. In this case, the music may be a memory, but the dance that remains works as if it was originally intended to be danced in silence. Not that it should matter, but I liked this work - enough to want to see it again.

The dancers spun together very well as an ensemble. As Rachel Rabkin commented after the performance, it takes an incredible internal sense of timing to dance together this way without the common external reference of music.

There was a moment that felt like Vespro (See New York City Ballet review 1/11/03) with the dancers arms raised 45 degrees.

The floor was slightly squeaky, but even without music to cover it, it was not a problem. I probably only noticed it because it is my job to notice these things. It does, however, bring up an interesting possibility. Mr. Feld could experiment with performing the work on different surfaces that produce different sounds when danced upon. Since he can't perform the work to its original music, one logical next step is to let the dance produce its own music.

As an aside, most of the dancers in Mr. Feld's company appear to be double jointed. They seemed to be able to bend their arms beyond what is normal. Having been conditioned to prefer straight lines, it was a little unsettling at first, but like much of Mr. Feld's work, after a while it all starts to seem consistent and perfectly normal.

Choreography: Eliot Feld (1991). Costumes: Willa Kim. Lighting: Allen Lee Hughes. Dancers: Patricia Tuthill, Patrick Lavoie, Pamela Alviar, Lauren Alzamora, Andrea Emmons, Ana Hernandez, Jacquelyn Scafidi, Lydia Tetzlaff, Jessica Tong, Lindsay Yank, Ha-chi Yu.

The third act was Paper Tiger. This was a whimsical work, with patched together vagabond costumes. There were fast segments and slow segments. And even several segments where the patches on one costume turned out to actually be the hand holds of a harness under the dancer's clothing. This allowed his fellow dancers to spin him in a full 360 degree vertical rotation. This brought new meaning to the idea of mechanical assist of dance.

The work was fluid and confident. It was also free of the usual modern dance pauses.

There was a segment where one dancer wore a partial manikin suspended from his neck. The manikin appeared to dance in response to his movements. This was very well done and very Momix-like in its creativity.

Segments of the work were the modern dance equivalent of the Peabody: fast-paced unself-conscious silliness. The music was a little bluegrass in quality, but rhythmically it was almost certainly a Peabody.

The work was thoroughly enjoyable.

Choreography: Eliot Feld (1996). Music as performed by: Leon Redbone. Costumes: Willa Kim. Lighting: Allen Lee Hughes. Dancers: Lauren Alzamora, Wu-Kang Chen, Nickemil Concepcion, Andrea Emmons, Junichi Fukuda, Ana Hernandez, Amin Mendez, Jacquelyn Scafidi, Sean Scantlebury, Lydia Tetzlaff, Jessica Tong, Patricia Tuthill, Jassen Virolas, Lindsay Yank, Ha-chi Yu.

Ballet Tech
Paper Tiger
Choreography: Eliot Feld
Music Performed by: Leon Redbone
Costumes: Willa Kim
Photo courtesy of Lois Greenfield

More importantly, the three works presented tonight clearly demonstrated that Mr. Feld has a well-developed movement vocabulary that he can use to express significantly different dances. His work might be described as modern dance en pointe, and as such illuminates that border area between modern dance and ballet.

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