"Where have I seen that faun before?" is a question that, with a mere change of object, can be asked about many of Eliot Feld's ballets. Last night, at the Kennedy Center, this query was pertinent to the figures in both "Anatomic Balm" and "Circa." The final work on this second program of the Feld Co.'s two-week season here was "A Footstep of Air," and meeting its characters seemed a series of fresh encounters.
"Circa" is about what would happen if Nijinsky's "Afternoon of a Faun" met Botticelli's "Birth of Venus." The apt, though unlikely, music for this confrontation is by the subtle Paul Hindemith. On stage there are sensual, wily passages in which modeled groupings exhibit themselves and are drawn together by a momentum as inevitable as in a Grecian frieze. Richard Fein, with the strong, dark features of a young John Garfield, is the faun, and the ample Gloria Brisbin, her long hair rippling, is not unworthy of representing the deity of beauty. According to Feld, Venus gives herself to the Faun. Nevertheless, he is still not satisfied. What happens at the end is similar to the sensational climax of the original "Faun" ballet, though at this point Feld, surprisingly, resorts to the only truly classical solo work in the entire piece--whereas Nijinsky was graphic. Unfortunately, Fein's academic dancing was not sufficiently clear. He is more suited to supple torso movement.
In "Anatomic Balm," the female corps de ballet wends its way across the stage in a line almost as long and persistent as in the Shades Scene of "La Bayadere." These shades, though, gyrate and swivel on their pointes as if massaged by invisible hands. And, the music is ragtime. Traci Owens as the short and tough hoofer, Megan Murphy as the delicate treader and Brisbin in luscious phrases are the three leading Graces. Paul Zukovsky, who with Robert Dennis arranged the score from old-time rags, was the violinist and Peter Longiaru was the piano soloist.
Intriguing as commentaries, how do "Anatomic Balm" and "Circa" compare to the works which are their sources? The pleasures the Feld pieces offer are pastel. The Shades of "La Bayadere" can be awesome; real ragtime is delirious. "Faun" can be shocking; the Botticelli is breathtaking. Too often Feld's view of these works seems secondhand, as if he hadn't experienced them but merely read reviews.
To the Beethoven settings of folk songs, "A Footstep of Air" has the pungency of direct experience. The characters are derived from stock figures, but have breen brought to life. This is especially the case in Edmund LaFosse's wicked pas de deux with his shepherd's crook.