It's also about his own ability to dance steps. Choreographers' work changes when they can no longer demonstrate it on their own bodies. "The secrets one's muscles and sinew hold are like the id of dancing," said Feld, who stopped dancing about nine years ago. "Then there's sensibility. One without the other is meaningless, like a computer without a program."
Feld no longer teaches his old ballets to the company, leaving that task to Darren Gibson, 22, "a wonderful ballet master," he said, and one of the company's most gifted dancers. That's freed him, he said, to choreograph more new ballets while he's still able to move, and this has been a prolific time, with two major ballets: "Endsong" and "Wolfgang Strategies."
The latter ballet was triggered by a telephone call from a dance critic who asked Feld why there are so few ballets set to Mozart.
"I developed some theories, quickly, hung up and said, 'I wonder why?' " Feld recalled. He went out and got some Mozart CDs, puzzling over how to choreograph to music that was so familiar, so beloved, yet at times so full of repeats that if a ballet were made to it, "the loudest sound would be the audience snoring."
Then, two newspaper photos caught Feld's eye. One, he said, was a classic painting showing "some event of biblical proportions, like the Resurrection," and the other "an abstract, square thing." That, he decided, illustrated the dichotomy of the Mozart ballet: "Between my absolute adoration of this music and present imperatives. It's about ironic juxtaposition."
That might be putting it mildly. Dancer Joan Tsao, who has the principal role as a sylph of sorts, suddenly appears in Mickey Mouse ears. Why?
"Why not?" Feld replied. "You cannot be a classicist without being seditious. The two are the same. Aping the past is just a sweet prison. It has no vitality.
"When I was in Ballet Theatre we used to do 'Les Sylphides' every night. I've never seen a 'Sylphides' I liked. The decorousness is unbearable. Christine Sarry was in it night after night. One night she said, 'Eliot, something in me wants to go run around the stage like a crazy woman,' " Feld said, demonstrating Sarry's rebellious war whoop.
He also remembers watching the ballerinas emerge from the stage door after dancing in a classic: "The young women would come out. These are hot ladies, sexy, vibrant, dressed to kill. I'd think, 'What is going on?' This information doesn't jibe. Never in a million years would they be interested" in a "Swan Lake" or "Sleeping Beauty."
So in "Wolfgang Strategies," with its juxtapositions of formality and informality, he said, "Mickey Mouse is another argument. Is the sylph more worthy of worship?"
That eared presence, while it may be jarring, "is not a joke," despite the laughter at its premiere. "One is always disappointed when one is not understood," Feld said, "but on the other hand I was happy that I wasn't excoriated."
Another new ballet, "Evoe," is for Gibson. Set to music by Debussy, it evokes memories of Vaslav Nijinsky's "L'apres-midi d'un faune," a fact Feld is loath to dwell on, preferring to talk about Gibson.
"I adore the way Darren dances. There's an extraordinary, sensual, androgynous character in his movement and persona," he said. "I don't think anybody understands what a virtuoso performance he gives. He was just working through it for the longest time," building stamina so he wouldn't end up "out of gas four miles from home."
Feld went on to praise other company members, including Buffy Miller, who will solo in "Kore," set to music by Steve Reich. Feld said he's amazed that Miller, unlike himself, always knows where the downbeat is. "She's not working at it; she does it as an act of consonance with the music."
Miller's rounded physique is atypical for a ballerina. "She is womanly physically, and also as a dancer," Feld said, praising her generosity as an artist. "You can feel the flush of what she feels in the motion. Unlike most dancers, she's capable of inspiration"--which is what he looks for.
"I want somebody who can tell me something new. She's a true collaborator, as is Lynn, as is Jeff (Neeck) and Joan. That's why you have a company, to meet your aesthetic mates. That's how I survive."