Eliot Feld's Mandance Project
Joyce Theater, NYC
April 9–20, 2008
Reviewed by Susan Yung
Ballet Tech Foundation’s confusingly organized three-part conglomeration of performances comprised two programs choreographed by Eliot Feld—the Mandance Project, prominently starring women; and Kids Dance, with students from his school; plus a premiere by HORSE, a male troupe from Taiwan. But perplexing or not, it collectively displayed Feld’s boundless enthusiasm for dance and dancers of all types. And with the American debut of HORSE, he gave audiences a glimpse of an appealing new company with humor and panache, underscoring his fortuitous connection with some wonderful Taiwanese dancers.
The most anticipated premiere was Isis in Transit, a solo for the sublime Fang-Yi Sheu, one of the most riveting dancers to perform in recent years with the Martha Graham Dance Company; she is now pursuing independent projects. The stage is dominated by eerily beautiful sculptural set pieces designed by Mimi Lien and Feld, obstacles on a journey that Isis must undergo to reclaim her husband Osiris. To Steve Reich music, she scales allegorical peaks, conquers quaking volcanic mountains that shake her to the core, and beats her way through a jungle of plexiglas trees, clinging for life as they bow to the floor under her weight. More theater than movement, Sheu’s laser-like presence nonetheless shone as she climbed a staircase of steel rods, caressing each tread with her feet as she gazed ahead, then slid down a plexi chute fogged by her exhalations. Finally, she slipped on tubular metal wings and soared upward.
The other major premiere was Undergo, a solo “plus three” for Wu-Kang Chen. While Feld provided plenty of rigorous choreography for his able dancers, the dance seemed obsessed with, and evoked from the audience, tormented psychological states, abetted by Meredith Monk’s otherworldly vocalizations. The sets once again took centerstage—a length of paper running through many rollers, pulled out at the end; a clear, illuminated pedestal; and a plastic bag into which Chen crawled, eliciting fears about his respiration while inducing claustrophobia from viewers. The program included Pursuing Odette, a captivating, if overly melodramatic study of the dark/light duality of the swan/female danced by Ha-Chi Yu; and Backchat, an enjoyable work for three men (including Chen, Anthony Bryant, and the fine Adrian Danchig-Waring of City Ballet) and a sculptured wall.
Two of the Kids Dance works were presented on opening night—both buoyant romps that showcased the exuberance and discipline of the next generation well.
Chen is also a member of HORSE, the Taiwanese male sextet which collaboratively choreographed Velocity, here in its American debut. Humor pervades the first half as the dancers slap big sheets of brown paper on their fronts and run across the stage, fashion paper miters and vests, or perform a well-designed trio of leveraging and linked movements like a six-legged beast. Stationary bicycles plus background video created a nifty travelogue, and three moveable matrices of cubicles and TVs made for a resourceful, flexible set. The vignette structure, to mixed music, provided variety until the last section, which featured a few unmemorable solos alongside some rewarding ones. But the relatively monotonous ending didn’t dampen the general exuberance and charm of the evening.
(Photo by Lois Greenfield, Courtesy Feld)