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Anyone who thinks ballet is elitist hasn't seen Feld Ballets/NY. Seven years have passed since a faulty sprinkler system forced the company to perform without a curtain. Eliot Feld so fancied the idea that an audience could watch dancers' on-stage warm-ups that he has done away with curtains ever since.

With 85 ballets on his resume, Feld is one of the most prolific choreographers of his generation. He's also one of the most innovative ballet choreographers of all time, an iconoclast who can, for example, twist the romantic sentimentalism of Stephen Foster's "Open Thy Lattice, Love" into a delightfully naughty pas de deux. "His work and his company should not be missed by anyone wanting to keep abreast with what is alive and well in classic dance," says dance Critic Clive Barnes. Feld debuted as a dancer in 1954 as the young prince in George Balanchine's "Nutcracker" and played Baby-John in the movie version of "West Side Story." In 1967, while dancing with American Ballet Theatre, he created "Harbinger" -- and made what is largely considered the most auspicious choreographic debuts since Jerome Robbins' 1944 splash with "Fancy Free."

Since it was founded in 1977, Feld's New Ballet School has auditioned more than 286,000 children of New York City public schools and offered a free dance education to the most promising youngsters -- about 7,000 so far. This year, nine of 10 company members graduated from the school. Feld Ballets/NY will perform at 8 p.m. Thursday in Buffalo State College's Rockwell Hall Auditorium.

-- Nicole Peradotto

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