Eliot Feld’s coup de couperin – one of the two new works presented by his company, Ballet Tech, in its recent Joyce season – may have been devised to challenge (and celebrate) the increased accomplishment of his still-raw young dancers in the refined reaches of academic style. An excursion for sixteen that is not without deftness, wit, and charm, the piece reflects the elegance of Baroque court dancing, from which classical ballet evolved. The dancers have indeed increased their skill – all the women work on pointe without any major gaffes, though pointe work is definitely post-Baroque – but not sufficiently for them to be credible as adept technicians, let alone artists for whom an advanced level of technique is merely a springboard to more exalted things.
The men of the group, notable for their fierce physical energy and psychic intensity, are obviously ill at ease with the cavalier comportment required of them here. The women are somewhat more sophisticated about patrician behavior (women always are), but they, like their male counterparts, are hampered by insecure turnout, sluggish action in the feet, and a lack of buoyancy in the air. Unfortunately, flaws in these areas – balletic essentials – are hard to correct at the professional level. To be effective, the necessary highly wrought training needs to be applied rigorously to the malleable bodies of children and adolescents.
Feld is a tenacious man. He has culled his performers from New York’s public schools and masterminded their development for a full decade. Most of them would not otherwise have had a chance at a professional career in an elitist art. He’s in some sense a father to them, so he can’t afford to err or fail. There’s too much at stake – for them, for him, and for the project itself, which is as much a social experiment as an artistic one. Still, if it’s distinguished practitioners of classical ballet he wants, he needs to rethink the means by which he grooms his protégés and concentrate on that aspect of their training. It’s clear from the present company – talented and personable though they are – that they’re getting too little, too late.
In much of the current Ballet Tech repertory, of course, the issue of first-class classical-dance capability doesn’t arise. The new nodrog doggo, for example, requires little more than powerful presence from the seven men who perform it. It’s a simple, effective gimmick – the men, nearly nude, prowling menacingly around a dusky stage, eerily illuminating face and groin with little lights concealed in their palms. They might be what the cops saw lately when they opened fire. No doubt some people will want to know what Feld is up to with the puzzling title of this piece. I’m more worried about what Feld is up to overall.