Review: Kids (in new hands) are still fine

Eliot Feld was on the subway when the car filled up with a group of exuberant children on a field trip. It was 1977, and Feld, a top ch...


Eliot Feld was on the subway when the car filled up with a group of exuberant children on a field trip. It was 1977, and Feld, a top choreographer, had an epiphany: not about how to escape, but about how he could discover underdeveloped dancers among children like these. . The following year, he joined the New York City Department of Education to start a dance training program for public school students, which eventually grew into a school for students in grades four through the eighth year: Ballet technique.

This oft-told story was told again Thursday at the Joyce Theater, which Feld also helped found, with the return of Kids Dance, Ballet Tech’s performance troupe, in a recital for paying (and even critical) audiences. He came in Feld’s recorded voice as part of “Eureka!”, a new work by Dionne Figgins, which succeeded him as artistic director last year.

As if they were on the subway, the students did a strap jump. They formed a semi-circle and took turns exhibiting themselves in the middle. I wish the musical concept – Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony with a rhythm – was a little less tired, or the rhythm was really fresh, but the dancers were having fun.

Better were Feld’s two works flanking “Eureka!” In “Hello Fancy” (1992), set to 17th-century compositions by John Playford, and “23 Skidoo” (1994), set to 1920s jazz-inspired ballet music by Bohuslav Martinu, Feld gives students a chance to show good dancing manners without being mannered.

The steps, not too difficult to master, are arranged with overlapping complexity and interlocking parts that display precision, focus, drive. Whether they begin with simple walks or end with a thrill – one dancer after another joining in a circular flow of leaps – these pieces delight.

Feld’s idea is alive, and so is he, though you might guess otherwise from the in memoriam tone of a hagiographic video segment. He’s old enough, 79, to have been part of both the original 1957 cast of “West Side Story” and the 1961 film, a fact honored in that program with “West Side Story Dance Suite.”

The staging by Jacquelyn Scafidi Allsopp – who also spoke of her experience as one of Ballet Tech’s first students – is a very loose adaptation of Jerome Robbins’ original choreography, and it’s put together a bit oddly. But the teenage energy of dancing in the gym and “Cool” is terrific.

Ballet Tech also trains its students by commissioning new works from them. Of this year’s premieres, John Heginbotham’s “Manhattan Research” has the best music: offbeat, old-school Raymond Scott electronics. The dance, for younger students, catches some of Scott’s idiosyncrasy in Egyptian arms and legs.

The other two works, by professors Men Ca and Michael Snipe Jr., are paralyzed by contemporary pseudo-cinematic clich├ęs in the music of Max Richter and Kerry Muzzey. But the “Guardians” of Ca use the grounding and geometric tension of Lester Horton’s technique to make the students appear powerful. And it and Snipe’s driving “Infrastructure” draw on Feld’s example of counterpoint and cascading bodies, showing the students’ high skills as a group.

The crossing lines towards the end of “Infrastructure” come together, but before that comes something much older, excerpts from “Raymonda”, choreographed by Marius Petipa in 1898. As with “West Side Story”, the adaptation is free, but the four couples impress with their classic chops. And at their center is another example to learn from: Raven Barkley of the Charlotte Ballet, who started dancing at Ballet Tech and returned as an adult guest artist. Sure of her solid technique, she hasn’t forgotten how to have fun. This is the Ballet Tech method.

Ballet Tech Kids Dance

Until Sunday at the Joyce Theatre; joyce.org.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Review: Kids (in new hands) are still fine
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