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Flash Review 2, 3-18: Still Kickin'
Dancing Feld, Baryshnikov Re-orders the Alphabet

By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2003 Gus Solomons jr

NEW YORK -- "Aurora I," opening one of Ballet Tech's programs at the Joyce (March 11- April 13), reminded me that Eliot Feld is a very inventive movement maker and that the obsessive way he composes that inventive movement into dances drives me crazy. It's no surprise that one of his preferred composers is Steve Reich, whose insistent pattern music gives him a perfect field for endless repetitions of movement motifs.

The dozen dancers in this 1985 work wear white sneakers and silvery space suits by Willa Kim, adorned at wrists and ankles with blurry bands of magenta or aqua. They slide down steeply raked platforms in myriad ways, sitting on their fannies, splitting their legs apart, diving upside down. The interlocking traffic patterns are stunning as dancers descend then climb back up the steep slope, progressing across the half-hexagon the platforms describe. Allen Lee Hughes uses low side light to cast long shadows: arctic twilight. But the pretty patterning persists for nearly half an hour without achieving a satisfying metaphor.

Seen Saturday, the nearly three-hour (too long!) program also included Feld's ode to America, "Lincoln Portrait," with actor Michel Gill speaking the Great Emancipator's words amid parading civilians, representing a cross-section of citizens, and a swirl of dancers who resemble an Olympic gymnastics team.

Also on the program, the enigmatic "Behold the Man," in which Nickemil Concepcion, Ballet Tech's reigning male star, does a spectacularly acrobatic solo, wearing only a dance belt and tiny light bulbs all over him (costumes by Gregg Barnes). Two women in leather-look dresses spin around him and fashion a grotesque crown of thorns on his head, made of long thin balloons, the kind guys at carnivals twist into animal shapes, while two men in futuristic military garb do a jazzy unison duet. Then they all run around the stage in a circle, Concepcion looking like a reindeer or an Indian chief and the two couples behind him wielding balloons like scimitars.

Feld and Mikhail Baryshnikov have collaborated several times over the years since 1977, and Feld's 1995 solo for him, "Tongue and Groove," set to Steve Reich's "Clapping Music," showed up on the program, too. Concepcion danced the quirky balletic steps with youthful aplomb, and Alan Pierson and Jason Treuting of the new music ensemble Alarm Will Sound on stage, skillfully clapped their hands red.

Feld's may be premature calling his new dance for Baryshnikov "Mr. XYZ." At age 55, Misha is still lively and wry, and no further alphabetically than, maybe, STU in his phenomenal career. He's as charismatic as ever on stage and obviously enjoying performing. For music, Feld has turned to one of his standbys, Leon Redbone, singing old standards.

As Redbone growls Irving Berlin's "My Walking Stick," Baryshnikov walks a little pattern using a cane as a third leg. He leans on the cane when he jumps, rides it like a horse, taps it like a blind man, and turns it into an umbrella, and a campstool. Hughes's lighting plan has one of the stage crew suspended above the stage, following the dancer with a spotlight.

Baryshnikov fox-trots with a dress form on a dolly to "Lulu's Back in Town," and when "Lulu" rolls offstage and jilts him he scooters himself around in an office desk chair to "I Ain't Got Nobody." He squeezes the chair between his legs and rocks it provocatively. Then, seven ladies in black tights take turns giving him a spin in the chair. Ecstatic, he balances the chair seat on his head and twirls the inverted base like a helicopter rotor.

Feld has created an ode to infirmity, but when the feisty elf Baryshnikov rolls upstage into the sunset in the chair, we know there's lots of life left in those magical legs, and we haven't seen the end of his Terpsichorean alphabet yet.


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