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November 20, 1980 - Image 6

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1980-11-20

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Thursday, November 20, 1980

The Michigan Daily

'he Feld Ballet at the barre

. . .

Tuesday afternoon, the Feld Ballet
vited patrons of the University of
ichigan's Musical Society and studen-
of the Dance Department to watch an
en rehearsal of the company at
>wer Center. With the exception of
ing subdued in language (none of the
pical rehearsal swearing), it was a
al rehearsal. As Eliot Feld, the com-
my's founder and choreographer,
ated to the audience, "We're not
iing to do anything special. We're
ping to pretend you're not there."
And indeed they did. It was an in-
aluable opportunity to see how a
ajor choreographer goes about
orking with dancers, a rarely
)ened door into the {real world, of
allet, a world of sweat, sore muscles,
nd dingy tights. The glittery costumes
id makeup only happen for about two
ours every day. Tiredness and un-

derheated rehearsal halls are with dan-
cers for the other hours. As Feld com-
mented, "For every minute on stage, it
takes fifty hours of rehearsal."
THE REHEARSAL centered on two
ballets, A Soldier's Tale, set to music by
Stravinsky, and Circa, a new ballet, set
to music by Hindemith. A Soldier's Tale
has been in the repetoire of the Ballet
for over ten years. However, it had not
been performed by the company for
several months and had to be put into
full rehearsal again, emphasizing the
peculiar fragility of the dance as an art
form. Most ballets are not notated. It is
too time-consuming, expensive, and
inexact. Instead, dances live in the
minds of choreographers and in the'
physical memories of dancers. And
yet, it is all too easy to forget. The dan-
cers rehearsing A Soldier's Tale were
stopped time and time again to correct
a head or an arm movement. They were
corrected for being off the beat. They
were corrected for being too far up-
stage or downstage. And so on and so on
for almost two hours of rehearsal on
that ballet alone.
Feld, wearing street clothes and
chain smoking cigarettes, spent most of
the rehearsal on stage with the dancers.
He frequently demonstrated the correc-

tions he wanted made. In a split second
he would magically transform himself
from a bewildered soldier to an
aggressive prostitute.
KNOWING A BALLET well makes it
particularly interesting to see in
rehearsal. For one thing, dancers do
not hold back in rehearsal. They are
relaxed, well warmed up, and under lit-
tle pressure. Hence, they take chances
that they do not take for a performance.
The most beautiful arabesque on poin-
te, the cleanest beats, and the highest
jumps are usually only seen in studios
and rehearsal halls. Watching a
rehearsal of a familiar ballet also lets
one see the choreography more clearly.
Firstly, motions are repeated over and
over again. Secondly, there are no
distracting costumes. The Feld dancers
wore the drab practice clothes worn by
dancers the world over: old leotards in
black or faded pastels, wooly legwar-
mers, and cutoff socks around the
ankle to warm the Achilles tendon.
For A Soldier's Tale Feld rehearsed
two casts together at the same time.
Ordinarily, the dances he worked on
would be*done in performance by only
one three-dancer ensemble; however,
to save time, Feld watched two ensem-
bles at once. Thus, for the rehearsal
audience, gestures that existed by
themselves in the staged version of the
ballet took on new meaning as they
were mirrored by the two groups. An
outstretched leg in one ensemble
echoed a languid arm in another. Fur-
thermore, the two ensembles watched
each other, This did not have a major
effect on the nature of the
choreography but had a palpable ef-
fect-nonetheless. To a certain degree,;
by dancing together and watching each
other, the two ensembles functioned as
a unified whole. And to a certain
degree, as they competed to be on the
beat, to be graceful, to emote, to be'
technically correct, they danced for
each other.
to choreograph and rehearse without
stressing emotions. That is to say, a
dance is movement, and is not
necessarily reflective of a story of
mood. Feld is decidedly not of this
school. He stressed emotions to his
dancers all through the rehearsal.
"Look,'' he said to a dancer having a
difficult time chucking a soldier under

the chin with the right effect, "You're
saying: 'You kid. You sent a kid to do a
man's job.' You're in control."
Feld used frequent humorour com-
ments to relax the dancers and make
his corrections. After a particularly
awful bout with timing he commented,
"I have no idea what happened.
Everybody was right but everybody
was wrong." In one of his occasional
side remarks to the rehearsal audience,
he noted that he and the dancers enjoy
thinking up names for new sections of
ballets. For example, the first part of
Circa, which portrays Aphrodite rising
from the sea, is entitled: 'S.O.S.'-like
a distress signal. Aphrodite arrived and
everyone said 'wow, look at her' and
that's a paraphrase of Homer."
DESPITE THE almost superhuman
image that ballet dancers have, Feld
frequently recognized and had to deal
with dancer's limitations during the
rehearsal. One dancer's neck:would
just not go into the position it was sup-
posed to, She was allowed to change her
stance. A set of steps weren't working
too well for two of the dancers. Fled
'tried changing them. At another point,
concerned with a difficult lift, Feld
asked a ballerina: "Can you cheat?
You can use your hand to push your
body back to make it easier for you."
Thus, while it was obvious that most of
Feld's work was set, he did appear to
make room for occasional changes due
to the differences among dancers inter-
preting the roles.
During the rehearsal, A Soldier's
Tale and Circa were not the only things
going" on on stage. Some dancers war-
med up at a portable barre in the wings,
a ballerina who would appear in Half-
time, a parody of football halftime
shows, practiced standing in an
arabesque and twirling her silver
baton; and a few dancers flopped down
on the stage floor to leisurely stretch
their backs. Amidst the jumbled
scenery and equipment at the back of
the stage (ordinarily hidden by the
theatre's back curtain), other dancers
practiced jumps.
At about 5:15, after almost three
hours of work, the rehearsal broke up.
The Etruscan ladies in Circa were still
not getting the arms. Counting was off
in several parts of A Soldier's Tale and
Aphrodite has a back ache. It was then
back to their hotel for an hour of rest.
Curtain was at eight.



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