At Kennedy Center, 'Faun' improves a disabled dancer's diagnosis

Friday, June 11, 2010; 9:36 PM

Surgery on the back leg of a 5,000-year-old faun is a peculiar premise even for modern dance but one that made for an intriguing evening at the VSA Festival Thursday at the Kennedy Center.

"Diagnosis of a Faun" draws its connection to Vaslav Nijinsky's 1912 "Afternoon of a Faun" via its star, actor Gregg Mozgala, whose legs are afflicted by cerebral palsy (he was trained to dance specifically for this piece) and who thinks of the upper and lower parts of his body as two separate components. Choreographer Tamar Rogoff thus alighted on the image of a faun, who is partly human, with animal legs.

Mozgala is a marvelously feral faun with a glint in his eye, a spring in his hoof and a penchant for ravishing anything that comes along in the forest. He lights up this work, which draws links between medicine and art. Upstage is a forest. Downstage is a medical convention with physicians presenting successful surgery cases. The patients are the faun and the target of the faun's lust, a sylph in the guise of a ballet dancer who has ruptured her Achilles' heel.

Doctors, dancers and faun move back and forth between the worlds. The faun proves a humorously unruly patient. A doctor is drawn into a lascivious duet with the faun in its lair.

But it is the preparation for this work that is at its heart. Rogoff, a doctor's daughter who also specializes in body alignment, worked for a year and a half with Mozgala to prepare him for this role and, in the course of it, vastly improved his ability to control his legs.

That stunning change alone is a powerful example of the medicine/art connection this work touts.

-- Pamela Squires

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