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Ballet Tech, Joyce Theater, March 4-April 13, 1997.

What do you see when you look at very young dancers taking a step or two across a stage? You see their delight at being able to do it -- to dance, and for an audience. For a longtime professional, dancing may become a fact of nights and days. For newcomers, though, it will be both less and more than that. Elation and shock combine in the novelty of their stepping out. Almost nothing seems to come between the dance and the dancer's desire for it.

Eliot Feld's preference for young dancers has helped give his company a distinctive look and heart rate. That metabolism has intensified now that the company is made up exclusively of dancers from his school, and explains the school and the company's recent change of name to Ballet Tech. Still, the school has been altering the company incrementally for years, lending students as subjects, muses, and collaborators to a choreographer whose work is nearly always vividly singular. Feld's kind of classicism, though eclectic, idiomatic, unconventional, and critically debated, remains his, no matter who is dancing. His artistic will, while impossible to second-guess, is not conditional.

So what does a Feld dancer look like in a Feld ballet now, especially when each is new to the other? As an example, look at Armand Pretlow, a student performer from the Ballet Tech school, in Meshugana Dance (1996), a piece danced this season by an all-student cast in a program meant for children called Kids Dance. (Kids Dance programs have become a sort of Feld institution during the last several years.) Meshugana is not a dance I can imagine Feld's company of senior dancers falling into naturally, not for technical reasons, but because the Katzenjammer-Kid craziness and lickety-split wit of the piece, evoked almost virally by its heady, frantic klezmer music, suggest the presence of urban sprites who have to play or perish. Grown-up dancers may be too dignified for this, too self-conscious to evoke the quality as ingenuously. But the dance's signature also has something to do with Feld's decision to imagine beginnings as an end in themselves, to compose for people who, as he has said, haven't yet gotten what they wan -- and who want it very much. They may also want to want. For despite their training and skills, they're not professionals. They're dancing on hope.

Pretlow, a thin, rokish boy dressed in neon motley for Meshugana, does the solo of a sidewalk Petrouchka, flopping, flailing, and bopping on the floor in a caffeinated, twitchy, theatrically roaring stupor. But he's just as wonderful dancing vertically in midair with an ensemble; his ferocious clarity seems to depend on nothing -- no instruction, no reason, no model. in a similar sense, Buffy Miller, an eleven-year veteran of Feld's company, throws away our ideas about the ballerina when she dances for him: her organic, expressionist abandon in Industry, the newest of Feld's solos for her, has a contrary, struggling, emotional athleticism that, like Pretlow's solo, owes much to the dynamic line spun from disarray when a dancer seeks the ground. The peculiar transports of Pretlow and Miller emerge from a tussle with formality and chaos, musically inspired. Their romanticism seems wrung from the street, not the studio.

This isn't wholly new for Feld, whose artistic past is polygamous, with West Side Story, Balanchine's Nutcracker, de Mille, Tudor, Pearl Lang, and Donald McKayle included. But his imagination has settled on these dancers, who all come to Ballet Tech on full scholarship, recruited from New York City's public schools. Unlike most of our ballet companies, his seems unpersuaded by dance's usual social and racial assumptions and exclusions. In its dancers and its repertory, the enterprise offers a portrait of an artist and a portrait of a city.

The portrait is variable, glimpsed this spring in explosive facets: Darren Gibson's unforgettable danced scream in the familiar Evoe (1991); Miller's apparently boneless gum-chewing queen of the floozies in the new Jukebox, the adhesive vertigo of sock-clad dancers in Shuffle (1997), a minimalist fantasy of fitness; Rachel Alvarado's debut in The Jig Is Up (1984) as a passionate hoyden.

"Not one of them wants to be Odette/Odile," Feld has commented. "They want to tell their stories."
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Author:McQuade, Molly
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Aug 1, 1997
Previous Article:Erik Hawkins Dance Company, Sylvia and Danny Kaye Playhouse, February 18-23, 1997.
Next Article:Ballet Gulbenkian, Joyce Theater, April 22-27, 1997.

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