The most enthusiastic crowd of the week, and a sizable one too, greeted the Feld Ballet's third program at the Kennedy Center last night. Seen for the first time during the run were a pair of exquisitely sculpted Feld miniatures of opposing character -- "The Gods Amused" (1971) and "La Vida" (1978) -- along with repeat performances of "Harbinger" and the diverting new "Papillon."
"The Gods Amused," set to the lulling delicacy of Debussy's "Sacred and Profane Dances," is an undisguised tribute to George Balanchine's masterly "Apollo." As such, it is a distillation of a distillation, reducing the characters to three -- the Apollo figure (Edmund LaFosse) and two attendant muses -- and dispensing even with Balanchine's skeletal narrative.
What remains is the essence, expressed in movement and shape, of that Hellenic equipoise that made the Balanchine opus the archetype of balletic neoclassicism. The pictorial correspondences are unmistakable -- for instance, the spokelike leg formations suggestive of solar rays, and the lyrestrumming arm circles. But as ever, Eliot Feld makes his own distinctive use of them and adds striking elements, such as rippling torso undulations and a Nijinsky faun pose, that have no direct antecedents in the Balanchine. The ballet shows Feld at his most benignly poetic, and it has an elegant economy that sticks in the mind.
Just as spare, and more conspicuously original is "La Vida," one of a series of ballets Feld has given us about a specific place and populace, in this case, rural Mexico and its natives. At the start, all we see is a sombrero and a serape, and when the dancers make themselves visible, they toss in evocations of burrors, bull-rings and sly flirtations, abetted by Thomas Skelton's sun-toasted lighting.
At bottom, "La Vida" is a choreographic memento. It matters little to what degree the dance imagery, and Copland's score, for that matter, reflect the "real" Mexico -- the ballet rings true to its own highly personalized perceptions.
Throughout the evening the company appeared to be in especially good form; "Harbinger," in particular, received a much crisper, more vivid accounting than it did on opening night.