In their diversity of idiom, flavor and content, the three ballets that constituted the Feld Ballet's second and notably invigorating program at the Kennedy Center last night -- "The Consort" (1970), "Intermezzo" (1969) and "Half Time" (1978) -- seemed as representative as any trio of works could be of Eliot Feld's approach to the art. As such, they not only summed up to a program of satisfying contrasts, but also brought to mind two illuminating generalizations about the Feld repertory.
The first is the sense of deja vu one often encounters with Feld's pieces -- it is as if each work were a kind of spinoff (his detractors might be inclined to say ripoff) of someone else's previous, more familiary dance composition.
Thus, in last night's program, "The Consort" reminds one of that strain in Paul Taylor's work going back to at least "Scudorma" (1963), in which a patina of civilized social behavior is peeled away to disclose lecherous currents underneath. "Intermezzo" is clearly akin to Balanchine's "Liebeslieder Waltzes" (1960) and the covey of Jerome Robbins "piano ballets" starting with "Dances at a Gathering" (created the same year as the Feld). Similarly, "Half Time" harkens back to Balanchine's "Stars and Stripes" and Jimmy Cagney.
The point, however, is that these are no mere copies or even parodies -- Feld is far too original for that, and the stamp he puts on his ballets, a mixture of popular nonchallance, ambivalence and irony, is all his own. Feld's no rebel, but is a skeptic, and it comes across in everything he does.
Which brings us to the second generality -- that Feld has always seemed intent on making ballets not for the culturally indoctrinated but, so to speak, for guys and dolls; for people who wouldn't know the difference between a rond de jambe and a rooster and couldn't care less.
Of last night's trio, "The Consort" is the least effective. The dancers progress smoothly enough from staid courtiers to unbuttoned peasants to orgiasts, but the transformation seems too obvious and tame. Taylor has shown us that if you're going to do this kind of thing, you've got to be sufficiently outrageous about it.
"Intermezzo," on the other hand, holds up as one of Feld's finest. Sarcasm is at a minimum here, but Feld's gift for poetic contour is shown at its most lucid. The ballet is a study in roundnesses -- spins, spirals, arching lifts -- that accord beautifully with the amorous tug of the Brahms score.
"Half Time" is deceptive. At first glance, the routines of its shimmying pompon girls and swaggering, gymnastic males look like pure cliche. The more you see of it, though, the more you realize how cleverly Feld has incorporated both sides of growing up American -- the sentiment and the sentimentality; the vivacity and the unconscious promiscuity; the pride and the silliness.