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Really Eliot

Date: Mar 12, 2009


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Veteran choreographer Eliot Feld claims he’d rather “remain cryptic” about his work at the company he founded, Ballet Tech. But get him started talking about Mandance Project (Mar. 25-Apr. 5 at the Joyce Theatre), for instance, and it turns out that this innovative, feisty artist has plenty to say.

“I kind of come from ballet, but I’m not at all interested in 19th century ballet,” Feld says. “Ballet is so reluctant to change, and essentially heroic, all this turning out with your crotch sticking forward. When I do a dance, I’m interested in exploring new areas—things that are indigenous to us as Americans, peculiar to us, and also just peculiar.”

The two programs of the Mandance Project feature the results of these explorations. Apart from a revival of a signature work, Proverb, these are all Feld premieres: Radiance, a solo for Ha-Chi Yu set to the music of Brian Eno; Dust, a theatrical maelstrom of wind and flying debris danced by Wu-Kang Chen and set to the music of John Luther Adams; and The Spaghetti Ballet, a madcap romp performed by Ha-Chi Yu and six accomplices set to the cinematic music of Ennio Morricone.

About the last piece, Feld starts with the disclaimer, “I don’t know what it is,” then tells us what it is: “It’s somewhere between Clint Eastwood and the Marx Brothers. It’s a great, ironic, stupid, silly, hopefully wonderful and amusing argument between chaos and order.”

Feld, a Brooklyn native who made his debut as the Child Prince in Balanchine’s Nutcracker and then went on to dance in West Side Story on Broadway, sees the development of dance as something of a back-and-forth, as well.

“Classicism is a kind of ever-evolving thing,” Feld explains. “It’s the corruption of classicism by the vernacular that keeps impelling and requiring change—and that’s a good thing, otherwise it just gets musty and old and who cares? The natural tension between the status of the past and the present imperative—that tug of war between the two keeps both alive.”

While he doesn’t disdain choreography for the Broadway theatre, Feld insists on a clear line between that and what he does.

“Musical theater forms are short forms; they’re popular forms,” Feld says. “When you’re dealing in long forms, it’s just a different animal. It’s like the difference between writing a pop song and a symphony.” One rule is true in both worlds, he says: “Anything decent depends on invention.”

He says that Mandance is “just a name,” initially referring to a planned 2003 season that was going to feature all male dancers. It didn’t even turn out to be true then, and it’s certainly not true now, but, reasons Feld, “ ‘Man’ could be mankind.” His original intended name was Vaclav’s Kitchen, invoking Nijinsky, but that was nixed by colleagues.

Plumb in the middle of the all-Feld program are two nights of Bones (Apr. 1-2), an evening-length work from Taiwan choreographed by Wu-Kang Chen along with the dancers from the HORSE project.
When asked if he puts together programs with an eye toward balance, Feld responds with mock indignation.

“We don’t want balance, we want imbalance—what’s with you?” Feld says, a smile in his voice. “Balance is passé. We want imbalance; we want weird.” But he concedes that planning a program with a range of styles and tones is important: “You want a meal that has some variety in it; steak, steak, steak is not good.”

And man, man, man is not good either. He has worked with principal dancer Ha-Chi Yu “since she was 11”; a new principal he’s excited to mention is Heather Lang. Appearing in The Spaghetti Ballet are also three young dancers from Ballet Tech’s training program in, and Wei-Gia Su, a Horse member Feld describes as “a very heavy, stocky boy who’s just magical as a dancer. For that piece I was looking for people people, not just dancer people.”

Click here for more information about Mandance Project.