Performed at the Spring Show
for the Columbia Figure Skating Club & Guests
Columbia Ice Rink, Maryland
Both photos: Ian Lorello in the title role of Nathan Birch’s “Faun”
Photos courtesy of Kim Zaruba
Flat and angular placement, abrupt actions and sudden stillness, deep crouching and also turned-in stances were characteristic of Vaclav Nijinsky’s 1912 choreography for “L’Apres-midi d’un faune”. So were dreamy sensualities and a clinically clear depiction of sexuality. The “Prelude” music by Debussy, based on Mallarme’s poem, is complex and lasts about 10 minutes. Undoubtedly, choreographer Nathan Birch must have become fascinated by this material from the past. How suitable, though, is any of it for an ice ballet? Not very, at first glance. Motion on ice has continuity and is difficult to stop. Not entirely impossible yet hardly easy is diminishing a skater’s body volume. Dealing graphically with lust is taboo for ice skating which draws family audiences regardless of whether it is for sports, pop entertainment or artistic programming. Apparently, though, Birch couldn’t forget the “Faun” notion, so he transformed it.
Nathan Birch’s “Faun” is a trio for a male skater – the Faun – plus two female skaters. The pair of women are not Nijinsky’s nervous nymphs. They are more like the handmaidens to the Olympian gods in George Balanchine’s “Apollo”. Perhaps they are even a little like Apollo’s muses. Birch has called them “avatars”. They are the Faun’s helpmates, removing his jacket and so exposing him to what? It could be to all the influences of the universe. Birch forms this trio of skaters into a linked chain that knots itself and unties to wind about in arcs and under its own bridging arms – like in some older Balanchine ballets. For the Faun, Birch has devised angled, somewhat flattened squats. He glides both backward and forward in these compressions but then straightens up and stretches out. It is a taut, transformed Faun who ultimately moves across the ice.
The transformation happens musically. The dynamics Birch gives Ian Lorello’s Faun are very attentive to Debussy’s surges of speeding and slowing. Lorello asserts himself and relaxes his streamlined figure ever so sensually, lyrically. Daring is the use of the hands touching the ice to slow and then stop motion. I don’t think I’ve seen such a gentle cessation of skating before. Is it Birch’s intent that this Faun attains enlightenment?
The handmaidens, Julia Choi and Alicia Jackson, moved generously, nobly. Jackson also designed the trio’s costumes that subtlely evoked the earthy growth from which the Faun had emerged and the avatars’ blue skies. The ballet training of the three skaters gave their motions – even the crouching, flattening and twisting – a seamless continuity.