Tamar Rogoff Performance Projects

December 3, 2009

Tamar Rogoff Performance Projects

The Ellen Stewart Theatre

La MaMa E.T.C., NYC
December 3–20, 2009

Reviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa


Gregg Mozgala. Photo by Julie Lemberger, Courtesy Rogoff.


Imagine, for a minute, that instead of building Diagnosis of a Faun around Gregg Mozgala—an accomplished actor and playwright—Tamar Rogoff had selected a performer without cerebral palsy to dance her stunning lead character. Would that casting choice have made a difference? Yes, a huge one. And not simply because it was indeed Mozgala’s motor disability, his turned-in gait and compensatory posture, that first made Rogoff think of a faun, the nature of the lower part of its body at odds with the upper.

In fact, Rogoff perceived Mozgala as a whole person, not a man trying to replace his disability with conventional movement. She shows us, instead, a charismatic artist bringing his visible disability to the role. Mozgala’s cerebral palsy is crucial to the structure, look, and meaning of her work. It anchors and powerfully energizes it.

is set to music of Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, and—with a final nod to that randy old faun, Nijinsky—Debussy. It takes place in two eccentrically alternating worlds: the first, a romantic forest setting on a misty hillock, surrounded by birch trees, where a wiry, dark-bearded faun idles and slithers; the second, the hard, lucid realm of medicine and scientific research. Crossover happens.

A ballerina (Lucie Baker) bourées into the woodland scene, falls, and injures her Achilles tendon. Her subsequent medical consultation and surgery, imaginatively depicted, draws her into Sleeping Beauty pas de deux with one Dr. Donald Kollisch—in real life, a family physician. Kollisch makes a good show of partnering Baker, helped quite a bit by her spoken turn-by-turn navigation. As the piece unfolds, dancer, doctor, and medical researcher (Emily Pope-Blackman) find themselves on a collision course with the faun—a feral, sometimes amusing creature glorying in his virile body and its appetites. Each character will discover something of the Faun Within. But the researcher’s lingering duet with Mozgala, in the spirit of the scandalous Nijinsky, certainly ranks among dance’s most indelicate erotic passages.

Diagnosis of a Faun
shows us people testing and achieving balance through moving away from what’s safely familiar—physically, intellectually, emotionally—into something new. Perhaps it documents Rogoff’s own unfolding as teacher and  choreographer as she worked with Mozgala. Let’s hope dance fans will get to see more of this promising newcomer.