Of all reasonably renowned American ballet choreographers, Eliot Feld probably owes less to the hoary traditions of the art than anyone. His ballets seem especially far removed from those manners and mannerisms that have been handed down to us from the Russians, the French and the Italians. All this was certainly manifest in the Feld Ballet's program at the Kennedy Center Opera House last night, featuring "Half Time," a half-satirical, half-affectionate look at American rah-rah symbols and mores; "Scenes," an impressionistic portrait of New York street life during the Depression era; and "Circa," a thoroughly stylized narrative of love among the gods of Hellenic antiquity.
It isn't that Feld's choreography isn't classical, in technique and vocabulary. It's that he has modernized and Americanized these resources to the point where the European connection disappears. And from this personalized, vernacularized classicism, he makes ballets that are frankly aimed more at movie or television audiences than conventional "balletomanes."
The paradox is that for all Feld's real and resolute independence, his ballets appear to be the most derivative in the contemporary repertoire. This doesn't mean he isn't original, which he is in any number of ways, but only that his immediate roots, influences and inspirations are very close to the surface. "Half Time" would be inconceivable without Balanchine's "Stars and Stripes." "Circa" is even more clearly indebted to the same choreographer's "Apollo." And "Scenes" evokes a whole genre of urban portraiture in ballet, ranging from Kurt Jooss' "The Big City" to such classics of Americana as Ruth Page's "Frankie and Johnny," Lew Christensen's "Filling Station" and Jerome Robbins' "Fancy Free."
Another facet of Feld's work thrown into high relief by last night's program was his gift for memorable imagery. Still photographs of Feld's ballets are pregnant with implied motion; the ballets themselves, oddly enough, look like a fluid succession of photographic tableaus. From Megan Murphy's pom-pom pinup posturings in "Half Time," to Richard Fein's discus-thrower crouches in "Circa," to Edmund La Fosse's bawdy mime as the baggy pants burlycue comedian in "Scenes," it was such vividly seen, prototypical shapes and stances that caught and held one's vision, even when the choreographic threads upon which they were strung were occasionally on the lax or frizzled side. The performances--sharply profiled, by a company perfectly attuned to the needs of Feld's idiom--were splendid.