After Four Decades, a School Program Still Shows Youth and Energy

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As Eliot Feld has said, ballet is not for a class of people, but for everyone with talent. Discovering dancers through auditions at New York City public schools is his mission. On Thursday night, that talent was on display at the Joyce Theater when Mr. Feld’s Kids Dance revealed exactly what a student showcase should be: fresh and unpretentious, with just enough rigor to make it easy on the eye.


The troupe’s 40 dancers, ages 9 to 14, range in size from tiny to gangly, but as they wind their way through Mr. Feld’s twisting, curving steps that multiply and repeat, what they share is wholly apparent: a ravenous natural appetite for movement. Kids Dance is composed of students from the New York City Public School for Dance, a tuition-free academy focusing on academics and dance for grades four through eight that is a joint venture of Mr. Feld’s Ballet Tech and the Department of Education.


In honor of the 40th anniversary of the Ballet Tech Foundation, the junior troupe performed three works by Mr. Feld, including the premiere of “Kydzny,” set to music by the five-member Raya Brass Band, which layers traditional Balkan melodies with lively jazz and funk. While the band, from Brooklyn, kicked off the evening’s festivities by playing a few songs onstage, it didn’t accompany “Kydzny,” in which dozens of dancers cross the floor in pristine lines that intersect and glide through one another.


Wearing Michael Krass’s playful costumes — fancifully cut black-and-gray unitards embellished with colorful stripes — the girls hop like kangaroos or take steps in relevé with extended arms. The boys, dragging their feet, lurch forward like sleepwalkers or move painstakingly across the floor with their arms propped up behind them.


Young girls, in powder blue leotards and white socks — identified as Bubble Girls — walk across the stage, pause to blow bubbles and continue on. When they form a cluster in the center, their bubbles float up and down like a fountain; the other dancers, arms linked, form two circles, one outside the other, and whip around them. At times, “Kydzny” is as monotonous as a parade, yet in moments like the Bubble Girl passage, it’s a quirky urban folk dance.


Kids Dance also reprised Mr. Feld’s “Apple Pie,” from 1999. In this jaunty hoedown featuring music by Bela Fleck and Joe McCracken, Mr. Feld, interspersing ballet vocabulary with heels that dig soundly into the floor, develops a landscape of contrasts.


He also brought back “A Stair Dance,” from 2004, dedicated to Gregory Hines, in which five performers — Jessica Lau, Jordan Miles, Joseph Noesi, Diana Park and Zuzu Park-Stettner — dash up and down five sets of stairs in tricky patterns to Steve Reich’s “Tokyo/Vermont Counterpoint.”


As the young dancers skip and skitter up and down the steps — working in jaunty hip movements that expound on the rhythm of their feet — their focus is stunning. It’s a clever dance, and refreshing. Mr. Feld, perhaps inspired by Fred Astaire in title and feeling, creates a stair dance for a new age.


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