One of the greats of American choreography, Eliot Feld, arrived in Taipei yesterday to prepare for a show at the end of the month with the Taiwanese troupe Horse (驫舞劇場), featuring five of his works.
Feld is one of the major US choreographers from the second-half of the 20th century and is still going strong at 71. He has created close to 150 ballets since he first crafted Harbinger for the American Ballet Theater (ABT) in 1967.
Dance has been part of Feld’s life since he was a young child in New York City. He studied at the American School of Ballet and was just 11 when he performed with the NYCB in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. At age 16, he joined the cast of West Side Story. He went on to dance in other Broadway shows, on US television programs and with ABT as well as his own companies — the American Ballet Players (later the American Ballet Company) — founded in 1969 and the Eliot Feld Ballet, founded in 1974, which later became Ballet Tech. Given his early introduction to dance, it is no surprise that a major part of his work now is with the New York City Public School for Dance (now renamed Ballet Tech), which provides dance training and academics for students from elementary-school and junior high, and its performing group, Kids Dance.
Feld’s connection with Taiwan stems from his hiring Taiwanese dancer Chen Wu-kang (陳武康) for his former Ballet Tech troupe in 2001. He has created several dances specifically for Chen since then, and in recent years he has had Horse, the dance collective founded by Chen, Su Wei-chia (蘇威嘉) and four other men in 2004, perform as part of his annual Mandance Project at the Joyce Theater in New York.
Horse has previously performed Feld’s Steps, Proverb and Zeppo, so when I sat down with Chen on Aug. 10 to discuss the 3 Men on a Horse show at Novel Hall, I asked when the idea of presenting an all-Feld show in Taipei came up.
“We started talking about it right after Successor (繼承者, Horse’s 2011 show). It took about six months of talking before we decided to do it,” Chen said.
“When I went back to New York to rehearse after Successor, he [Feld] asked me: ‘Did you dance?’ When I said I hadn’t, but Wei-chia had, Eliot wanted to know why I didn’t dance for my country when I was so good. I said I couldn’t find a choreographer for me that I can trust,” Chen said, adding, “I trust him.”
Once they decided to do a show, they found it difficult to decide what to perform, he said.
“There is such a long history of his work — since 2001 he has created a lot of dances for me,” Chen said.
The works on the program are two solos for Chen — Undergo and Mending — and Zeppo 1, Zeppo 2 and Z as in Zeppo for Su. Feld has made some changes from the original productions.
“It [Undergo] was a solo with a group of dancers in the back, but he took out the group because he didn’t think it was interesting. Transit was a duet, but it is now a solo [called Mending]. It was too expensive to do a duet, too expensive to fly the props and I couldn’t find a girl,” Chen said.
Feld started working with Su after seeing him in Horse’s 2008 show, Bones, creating Zeppo, inspired by the fourth brother of the Three Stooges.
“Eliot says Wei-chia has the soul of a prince trapped in Quasimodo’s body, just like Quasimodo himself. It is rare to see a chubby man in the center of stage, focus of attention,” Chen said. “Before I didn’t think it was a big thing [for Wei-chia to solo], but now I do. The Wei-chia I knew before is gone, now it’s a new Wei-chia … these three dances fit him so well.”
Z for Zeppo is based on a piece that Feld choreographed for Mikhail Baryshnikov in 2003 called Mr X, Y, Z. The piece is centered on Su, but includes seven women dancers.
Chen admits he is nervous about the show, because Novel Hall is a much bigger theater than Horse usually performs in.
In addition, the company arranged a forum with Feld and a exhibition of dance photographs to help promote the show.
At the forum tonight at the Eslite bookstore in the Xinyi District, titled Dancing on Words, Feld and Chen will be joined by Taiwanese modern dancer Sheu Fang-yi (許芳宜) and Vivien H.C. Ku (辜懷群), who runs Novel Hall, to discuss creative thinking, dance and their respective experiences.
The photo exhibition, which runs through Sunday at Huashan 1914 Creative Park, is titled Dancing on Paper. The photographs were taken by prominent New York City photographer Lois Greenfeld and her subjects include Chen and Sheu as well as US dancers Darren Gibson, Lynn Aaron and Buffy Miller. All the photos were personally selected by Feld.
When you enter the exhibition, the first thing you see are two long printouts of Feld’s musings on the reasons to dance, one in English and the other in Chinese. There are dozens of reasons, but some of my favorites are: “One dances or rusts,” “One dances because suicide is bad,” “One dances making the eye catch its breath” and “One dances: critics sit.”
Chen admitted that organizing all three events has been hectic, but there was one plus: “Everything [the exhibit, the lecture and Novel Hall] is on the blue [MRT] line.”
What: Dancing on the Words
When: Tonight at 7pm
Where: Auditorium at Eslite Xinyi Store (誠品信義店), 6F, 11 Songgao Rd, Taipei City (台北市松高路11號6樓)
Admission: Free, but to reserve a seat please call (02) 2967-4495
What: Dancing on Paper
When: Through Sunday; Mondays to Fridays from 1pm to 8pm and Saturdays and Sundays from 11am to 8pm
Where: Huashan 1914 Creative Park (華山1914), Center Five Hall (中2館), 1, Bade Rd Sec 1, Taipei City (台北市八德路一段1號)