Sunday, May 19, 2013

Revisiting "Barefoot Renegades": "Afternoon of a Faun"

Zach Young in "Afternoon of a Faun"
Crafting an erotic work of art without coarseness cannot be easy in today's vulgarized cultural environment. And to do so in a piece strongly implying autoeroticism is even more daring.

David Hochoy has achieved this in "Afternoon of a Faun," a 2008 work revived for this weekend's "Barefoot Renegades" program at Indiana Repertory Theatre. Using Debussy's music originally composed for Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1912, Hochoy removes the mythological context of Vaslav Nijinsky's original and also seems to skirt the focus on narcissism of Jerome Robbins' 1953 setting for the New York City Ballet.

A glowing white Pilates ball serves as a totem for the magic of growing self-awareness in the sexual realm that grabs all but the unluckiest human beings.  Hochoy concentrates on one male dancer's relationship to that ball, which is so intimately engaged with by Zach Young that the audience rightly sees the exercise prop elevated to a symbol for all potential relationships that promise fulfillment. The central figure is not doomed to remain locked within himself; the onset of sexual arousal in a maturing person is the best kind of gateway drug, the work seems to say.

Hochoy's choreography only hints at frustration in a life process often loaded with it. The three women who enter the scene (Jillian Godwin, Mariel Greenlee and Caitlin Negron) have a nice ambiguity.  They are both distractions from the solo dancer's self-absorption and a way for him to go deeper into it, then beyond it. Far from being the tempting nymphs in Nijinsky's scenario, they seem more like projections of the male dancer's mental and physical restlessness. Like many mental states, they are elusive without having to be; they are not being pursued so much as evoked as guides.

Thursday's preview performance by Young had poise, elegance and what William Blake called "the lineaments of gratified desire." It received vivid support from the women. The piece passed before us like a dream, but somehow a dream we have all had and will never entirely outgrow.