Ballet Tech

April 6, 1999

Ballet Tech

The Joyce Theater
New York, New York

April 6-May 9, 1999

Reviewed by Kevin Giordano

Lean and lithe, slight of build, sometimes awkward, occasionally showing evidence of stage fright, the young dancers of choreographer Eliot Feld’s company, Feld Ballet Tech, warmed up on the stage. Meanwhile, audience members found their seats. It was a unique opening to the company’s programs at the Joyce, where it had a five-week engagement this spring. The dancers’ presence onstage, gave the evening an informal, rehearsal-like quality. But when the lights went down, it was clearly show time.

Since 1997, the professional ensemble of graduates of Feld’s tuition-free dance school have been informing his choreography. There were four separate programs and three Kids Dance programs plus special events.

The company’s largest group work performed this season, Simon Sez (1998), featured twenty dancers and eleven dance hands. The piece opened with a solo by principal Jassen Virolas. Athletic and graceful, Virolas displayed good balance and agility, as well as style and attitude. Though his vocabulary in Sez was limited and there was much repetition, he was a delight to watch. The three following sections featured the entire ensemble in different scenes. One included the building of a Lego-like tower all the way to the theater’s ceiling. A dance hand hung above the dancers, continuing the revealing ¬≥tech¬≤ setting. Later during the performance, dance hands built scaffolding nearly to the ceiling and dancers climbed up and swung around it.

Of the company’s three New York premieres, Mending, Felix: the ballet, and Cherokee Rose, Mending could be classed as postmodern shock, echoing more the sentiments of film director David Lynch (Blue Velvet, Lost Highway) than contemporary choreography. In Mending the curtain opened to reveal only a transparent cage in the center. This cage, approximately twelve feet in height and hung more than eight feet above the stage, resembled a pinball machine minus the flashing lights. Only when dancer Virolas, again proving to be a star of Feld’s company, maneuvered his outstretched body inside the cage did the audience notice how cramped this space was. The sense of entrapment was further exploited by a soundtrack of ambulance and police sirens blaring through the theater. The effect was riveting. Virolas captured the movement of a hungry snake moving in on its kill. When he reached the bottom, he hung his feet down and snapped up dancer Patricia Tuthill, who was dancing leisurely below.

The other premieres were not so creative or intriguing. Cherokee Rose (1998) was saddled with careless choreography that had featured dancer Tuthill shooting from one end of the stage to the other with little sense of purpose other than to prove she that could command the entire space. Pretty guitar music dominated, and Tuthill’s dress, by Frank Krenz, proved to be more delightful than the work’s choreography. FELIX: the ballet, set to music by Felix Mendelssohn, was rich with interesting props and sight gags, but it went on too long to sustain the madcap atmosphere.

The lengthy season also included Feld classics and revivals such as Jukebox (1997), Doo Dah Day (1993), Paper Tiger (1996), Contra Pose (1990), A Footstep of Air (1977), Yo Shakespeare (1997), and Re:X (1997).

Eliot Feld’s Ballet Tech and Kids Dance can be seen at New York City’s Joyce Theatre during its August summer season (see Dance Magazine’s August calendar for details).