Eliot Feld's "Pacific Dances," which premiered during Ballet Tech's season at the Joyce Theater (Dec. 18-30), was a prime example of the mesmerizing effects that can be achieved by a minimum of props when original choreography plus ingenious lighting (in this instance, by Allen Lee Hughes) are in evidence.
A single white sheet in the background served as the only prop, and was utilized to create myriad illusions, such as that of an ocean and the forms emanating from the body of water. In one scene, the sheet served as a decorative background for one of the bathing beauties, a sort of floating costume that at times encased her.
This tended to remind us of Loie Fuller, the American dancer who, at the turn of the 20th century, galvanized audiences throughout Europe and the U.S. by suspending lengths of silk around herself and achieving startling effects with electrical devices reflected against the material. From what we have heard, Ms. Fuller was more of an illusionist than a dancer.
The huge difference here was that the 12 bathing beauties involved in "Pacific Dances" were all lithe and lovely, achieving illusions of breaking waves, changing ocean tides, bathing and floating in the deep, and even more, immersed in the sheet that was manipulated in various directions to accommodate the soloists—Patricia Tuthill, Maria Feliciano, and Jeannine Lowery—as well as the group. When members of the group were not performing, they stood in four corners of shadowed space and served as manipulators of the cloth.
The most prominent aspect of Eliot Feld's choreography is his ability to absorb indigenous cultures without utilizing familiar native dances. Some of the side-swaying did suggest aspects of the Hawaiian hula, but every bit of Feld's patterns managed to evolve from the artistic director-choreographer's own imagery—100% Feld.
Accompaniments were by Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar, which evoked the spirit of the islands.
Two popular favorites, "Straw Hearts" (1982) and "The Jig Is Up" (1984), were also seen on the program of Dec. 29. The first of these—with an aura of late 19th- and early-20th-century vaudeville, melodrama, extensive mime, and hijinks—turned out to be spectacular theatre.
It commenced with three men slithering across the stage with a combined swaying gait. Later on, the trio—consisting of Nickemil Concepcion, Sean Scantlebury, and Jassen Virolas—performed a delectably intricate, eccentric dance that fanned out in all directions and was vastly amusing.
In contrast, Patricia Tuthill, Maria Feliciano, Andrea Emmons, and Jacquelyn Scafidi were their parasol-bearing opposites, treading daintily on pointe and garbed in luscious pastels designed by Theoni V. Aldredge.
A newcomer to Ballet Tech, Wu-Kang Chen, was called upon to perform one of the lengthiest solos and pas de deux ever seen in the company's repertory. He came on stage in that same swaying walk, and then the stage exploded with his impact.
Chen and Patricia Tuthill, as the cold-hearted beauty of whom he is enamored, delivered a demanding and tricky pas de deux of pursuit and escape, wherein she constantly blocked his route towards her with her parasol as the other dancers also kept the lovelorn youth from her side. In between the lengthy pas, Chen performed a despairing three-part solo where he commenced with basic, beginner ballet steps, built to tours, and concluded with extensive ballon. Finally, as the lady of his dreams was borne aloft and away from him by the men, the saddened mime went off in a solitary, Charlie Chaplin-like walk.
Wu-Kang Chen turned out to be the most vibrant and versatile of all the performers. He possesses a real penchant toward stardom.
"The Jig Is Up" also exhibited Eliot Feld's ability to take on other cultures and rework their traditions into original structures. There wasn't a moment of familiar Irish step-dancing in sight, and yet he managed to maintain the spirit of Ireland with gaiety, as well as with the tragic overtones of the land—its drama and its hopes. One could label the work a contemporary view of Ireland.
The sparks commenced flying with Jeannine Lowery and Jassen Virolas in a fun duet, followed by Jacquelyn Scafidi in a dance that seemed to convey all the tragedy and desolation experienced by the inhabitants. Andrea Emmons and Jason Jordan then lifted spirits in a pas de deux that followed.
All the dancers performed a war dance, short but potent, that stirred and excited. A concluding trio featured Maria Feliciano partnered by Nickemil Concepcion and Sean Scantlebury, who threw the lady skyward and then caught her in split-second timing. It certainly provided a breathtaking conclusion. Little wonder that "The Jig" remains one of the company's most popular ballets.
Jacob's Pillow Has 70th Anniversary
In celebration of the 70th anniversary season of what many consider America's first dance festival, a series of special public exhibits, films, and talks is being offered in January and February in New York City. Three New York organizations are honoring Jacob's Pillow: The Puffin Room in Soho, the Dance on Camera Festival at Lincoln Center, and the 92nd Street Y.
Several events will be presented at The Puffin Room, 435 Broome St., NYC. Included are Norton Owen conducting an open discussion with photographer Philip Trager and showing historic footage from the Pillow archives on Sun., Jan. 20 at 3 pm, and the Dance Films Association Dance on Camera Festival presenting a series of dance films and discussions hosted by Nel Shelby on five successive Saturdays at 1 pm: Jan. 19 and 26, and Feb. 2, 9, and 16.
Film showings and talks at The Puffin Room are free and open to the public. Gallery hours are Thurs.-Sun. from 1-6 pm. For more information, call (212) 343-2881.
Due to space limitations, we are unable to list the considerable events for the Dance on Camera Festival at Lincoln Center and the 92nd Street Y. For further information on Dance on Camera, contact Deirdre Towers at (212) 727-0764; for the 92nd Street Y, contact Melissa Connerton at (212) 415-5435.