The four works were all light-hearted and all used simple, repeated steps and patterns, beginning with “Quickstep” to Steven Martland’s rhythmic bass music. This work provided a template that all but one work would follow: several movement themes passed from dancer to dancer or performed in unison in clear, easy to discern stage formations (circles, parallel lines, etc.) The wit came in how the music was used and watching the dancers flawlessly negotiate all the rhythmic complexities Feld threw at them.
“Quickstep,” for example, involved some difficult music counting challenges in which the twisting stomps, soft side-to-side steps and splayed paddling hand movements were performed in canons or in unison with lines of dancers passing each other, forming circles and spiraling in to tight huddles which burst open as the dancers filled the stage. In “Quickstep,” the drama came in how the dancers, dressed in simple black and white practice outfits, handled the ever-increasing tempos and the complicated entrances and entrances.
“A Yankee Doodle,” choreographed to the very American-sounding Fife and Drum and American Potluck, used more jumping movements—hops and bounces—punctuated by bent-over steps in a slow progression across the Joyce stage. Stiff-legged tilts and shimmying shoulders were added into the mix. Performed in several sections to music that ranged from sprightly flute melodies to taps to reveille, the choreography included hornpipe steps, salutes, exaggerated yawns with the dancers rubbing their eyes with the backs of their hands and pileups onto the floor. An oddly out of place solo was beautifully and calmly danced by Lucy Hu who commanded the stage with her arched back and intense demeanor. Michael Krass dressed the dancers in very appropriate white unitards with shiny blue and red stars pasted on.
Julia Eichten’s “Monsieur,” to a Jacques Brel song was a solo impeccably danced and acted by Johnson Guo who was dressed in Michael Krass’ disheveled, raggedy suit. It was difficult to tell if his character was supposed to be a vagrant begging on the street, or a poor man enjoyed a romp in a park, but Mr. Guo was charming and charismatic. He moved stiffly and collapsed loosely to the floor, smiled and presented his hands, sometimes flinging himself into quick turns. Although Mr. Guo was a bit too young to understand the darker elements of this character, he acquitted himself well in the only work on the program that required any personal interpretation.
The final work, “Upside Dance,” to Scandinavian folk music, most of it eerily moody and monochromatic, was as formulaic as its predecessors, but this time the boys and the girls each had opportunities to show off in separate sections. The boys leapt about showing off their prowess while the girls skittered and twisted. There was some gentle, undemanding partnering, too. Constructed in eight sections, this was the most complex and difficult work on the program. The large cast, wearing black and white practice outfits, ended this work screaming, jiggling and shimmying their shoulders as the curtain fell.
Mr. Feld might want to try smaller scaled works that would test the interpretive, acting skills of the dancers so that they won’t always be beautifully rehearsed cogs in the ever-changing stage patterns.
However, the main thrust of this troupe is to stimulate a gentle discipline and the ability to work effectively with others. It’s clear that these youngsters who range from seven or eight years old to teenagers enjoy their time on the stage and have been rehearsed to perfection. Occasionally a look of concerted concentration replaced smiles but this experience—whether any of these kids will go on to careers in the performing arts—is priceless and will have positive developments throughout their lives.
Scene changes were made in full view of the audience, a policy Feld has always pursued.
Ballet Tech presents Kids Dance (June 11-14, 2016)
Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue at 19th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-242-0800 or visit http://www.joyce.org
For more information, visit http://www.ballettech.org
Running time: one hour and 30 minutes including one intermission