Why Is a Performer with Cerebral Palsy the Perfect Faun?

December 8, 2009




A faun is half man and half animal. Gregg Mozgala is half man and half invalid. His upper body is wiry, strong, beautiful. So is his lower body; it just doesn’t work so well. As he explained in a talk after Tamar Rogoff’s Diagnosis of a Faun, the problem with CP is that the brain doesn’t send the right messages to certain parts of the body. Whatever the scientific explanation, he was one of the best fauns I’ve ever seen. His natural presence in the woods of birch trees (set design by Robert Eggers) and his fevered focus on his nymph (who is more of a dying swan in this version) indicate a libido that’s right on the surface. The tattoos up his arm bring this Faun into the 21st century. His bright, intense eyes and wicked laugh show a certain relish for being the dangerous figure in the fantasies of the three other characters.


His duet with Emily Pope-Blackman, as the lecturing Dr. B (who begins her scene by making clinical pronouncements on her subject—a 5,000-year-old Faun), is the steamiest thing I’ve seen in a long time. They tumble and wrestle and smell each other up close. They bring out the animal in each other—almost brutally so. He swats her away, making it clear that his desire for her is only momentary; his real love is the ballerina/nymph, Lucie Baker.


In reconstructions of Nijinsky’s Afternoon of a Faun, the dancers always seem so careful; they are trying to get the geometry right. They tend to forget that the Faun’s animal desire needs to animate the strict framework of the Greek-urn choreography. Tamar’s version makes no attempt at authenticity—that’s not the point. Her aim is to weave the medical world together with the Faun’s forest world. But her instinct to cast Mozgala (who has plenty of acting credits behind him) as the Faun is in keeping with the idea of Nijinsky’s Faun. His hopelessly turned-in legs take Nijinsky one step further. The loss of control of his lower body appears to be something other than human, yet is also very human. The combination of dramatic control of his expressive upper body and face with the springy, jabbing awkwardness of his legs was extraordinary. Together Rogoff and Mozgala have created a true and powerful Faun.


Diagnosis of a Faun
continues at LaMaMa until Dec. 20. See www.lamama.org.


Pictured: Lucie Baker and Gregg Mozgala, Photo © Julie Lemberger 2009, Courtesy Rogoff