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Flash Flashback, 11-5: Not-'Nut's for the New Millenium"
Ballet to the Future with Eliot Feld

By Jennie Sussman
Copyright 1999 Jennie Sussman

Ballet Tech's Holiday "NoTCRACKER" season is simply not the NUTCRACKER. The traditional battles between toy soldiers and mice, the dancing sweets, and the dreamy journeys through the snow are replaced with unique works by Eliot Feld where down-home country clashes with the upcoming millenium. Even though the works were choreographed over two different decades, the contrasting themes within each piece seem to anticipate the turn-of-the-century, challenging our views of classical ballet. Beyond breaking barriers in the world of classical ballet--by placing dancers in two different-colored ballet slippers, for instance--Feld has overcome urban obstacles by creating a strong program that recognizes and nurtures public school children with a special talent and passion for dance. Ballet Tech combines dance and academic training to give city children the chance to become professional ballet dancers.

The opening piece in Tuesday's program (Program C), the 1998 "Simon Sez," embodies Feld's vision by incorporating company members and student dancers. The dancers casually enter the stage and continue to warm up. After a few glances, acknowledgements and waves hello, they surround a lighting technician as he sits down on a pulley, carrying him up to a spotlight that he manually maneuvers throughout the entire piece. Nickemil Concepcion enthusiastically opened the piece Tuesday with a vibrancy that captivated the audience. Following the solo, the ballet becomes chaotic and overwhelming for the eye. There is so much to see. The rest of the company and the younger dancers enter. As the company precisely and elegantly executes intricate spatial patterns, the children begin connecting colored Lego-like beads to form a giant Rubik's cube. The next thing I knew there was a white sheet wrapped around the soloist and one of the young boys. My eyes continually shifted from one part of the stage to the next. Each section is so intriguing, but at times I felt visually overwhelmed. Sharp lines and complex rhythmical patterns characterize the movement. Against the back of the stage are wooden bars which the dancers effortlessly jump on, landing either in a hand-stand or in second position, displaying their strength and virtuosity. They continue to dance with the wall as their support. In the midst of the piece, more stagehands--actually, dancing hands--enter and change the set. They build a large cube from colored metal poles echoing what the younger dancers have previously constructed. The children climb on top of the tower as the dancing hands set it spinning. Simultaneously, the male dancers perform an exhilarating sequence in which they travel to the front of the stage, jump high onto suspended poles and whirl around in one quick motion, sending the audience into a cyclone of energy and excitement. The lively music and animated facial expressions create a light-hearted and fun atmosphere. The brightly colored costumes with their techno-inspired, futuristic designs enhance the piece. "Simon Sez" seems to layer a theme of repetition. In addition to the repetition of particular phrases, the same colored cube is built twice. On Tuesday, after the piece ended I overheard an audience member ask, "What was the point of building the giant cube at the end? Wouldn't it have been easier to just roll it out?" I couldn't help but laugh. We never seem to take the easier path in life. However, I felt that Feld was trying to illustrate that what we build on a small scale ultimately grows and expands, affecting us on a much larger scale. "Simon Sez" displays an innovative use of props and lighting.

"Simon Sez" was followed by the 1999 "Apple Pie," performed by students from the Ballet Tech School. Both the music and costumes give this work a country flavor. The piece opens with a group of male and female dancers that enthusiastically perform intertwining line patterns and gracefully partner one another. The end result is an intersection between the worlds of country line dancing and classical ballet. The dancers execute each sequence with a refreshing vitality and youthful spirit. The intricate, complex spatial patterns appeared to naturally unfold into pinwheels that continued to divide into smaller numbers. The most impressive aspect of the piece is the lightness of the dancers, who seem to just effortlessly coast about the stage. Feld successfully molds his dancers to execute his work.

Tuesday's program ended with the 1984 "The Jig Is Up." In this work the traditional Irish music contrasts with the tattered, shredded costumes reflecting the fashion trends of the 80s. The piece incorporates both playful partnering and line dancing edged with a classical and seductive twist. Each partnering section seems to play on a sense of circular motion, whether in the arm patterns or in daring lifts that create this imaginary circle in the air. The most moving section of the piece Tuesday was a solo, performed by Lindsay Yank. The way she circled her upper torso with her hair trailing behind evoked an image of power and strength. Her body then collapsed into a contraction with her upper body hanging limply over her legs. She danced with intense passion and moving dynamics. The trio danced by Ha-Chi Yu, Christopher Torres and Sean Scantlebury was captivating. The high energy level of the dancers and complex lifts amazed the audience. The intriguing lighting design ranges from washes of blue to bronze and then to silhouettes. The Jig Is Up is an energetic, playful and vigorous work.

Since I had never seen Ballet Tech perform, I had no idea what to expect; definitely not "The Nutcracker."; but the NoTCRACKER.

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