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The night began with an echo and ended with a chant. In between, Eliot Feld's muses spoke with a lexicon of movement that was at once unique and universally understandable.

The man responsible for the vocabulary, Eliot Feld, embraces the whole of classical dance and molds it into something that is always his own, but never seems self-indulgent.

His company, Feld Ballets/NY, opened Thursday's performance at Buffalo State College with "Echo," a solo now 10 years old and set to Steve Reich's hypnotically repetitive score.

Like "Ion" -- another of the Reich pieces Feld set to dance in the '80s -- "Echo's" power comes from a single dancer's ritualistic patterns of movement. Each move, in effect, echoes the ones that precede it. Like an echo, the twists and turns repeat themselves, sometimes in a slightly altered form, and sometimes with layers of movement added to them. In harem pants and a half shirt, Patricia Tuthill eased through her turns with controlled fluidity and seamless elegance. Her torso twisted like a belly dancer and the effect was just as sensuous.

The pace changed dramatically with "Yo, Shakespeare," Feld's brand-new work danced by the boyish and exuberantly energetic Jason Jordan and Jassen Virolas. To Michael Gordon's tense score, each man shadows the other's steps. One marches iin a semi-circle; the other follows an inch or two behind, breathing down his neck. They break from each other, and then come back together -- less a reunion than an inevitable collision of energy.

At one point, they slowly wrap their hands around each other's waist, looking like wrestlers on lithium. As one slides through a series of splits and stretches, he seems to be mimicking the sideline warm-ups of a football player.

That imitation recurs when the two jog rapidly in place, knees high, breath audible.

"Gnosiennes" is a dreamy ballet that evokes images of forest sprites, but ones much less precious than those depicted in classical ballet. Translated in the program, gnosiennes are "those possessing spiritual or mystical knowledge." Translated on stage, "Gnosiennes" was the most ethereal work of the evening. Buffy Miller and Ha-Chi Yu engaged the audience with supreme poise.

"Evoe," one of the most innovative works in Feld's 85-ballet catalog, showcased the commanding talents of longtime Feld dancer Darren Gibson. Set to two Claude Debussy nocturnes, "Evoe" has been called Feld's meditation on Vaslav Nijinsky's 1913 "Apres-Midi d'un Faune."

It doesn't take even rudimentary knowledge of Nijinsky's fawn strut to appreciate the masterful Gibson as an awakening animal. Clad only in a flesh-colored dance belt, Gibson executes each stretch and pose with primal and irresistible conviction. The four women in harem pants and pointe shoes appear as a regimented contrast to Gibson's free-spirited leaps and snaky ground propulsions.

For something totally different, Feld introduced the audience to "Evening Chant." Who needs stage lights when the performers look like airport landing pads? Costumed in brown unitards outlined with white lights, the eight dancers evolved into tiny, round creatures; quadrupeds and a huge monster. The audience doesn't see the dancers -- only the tiny lights.

In one respect, "Evening Chant" represented a novel departure from the rest of the program. In another, it was just another bright spot in a radiant night.

Feld Ballets/NY

Eliot Feld's ballet company in "Echo," "Yo, Shakespeare," "Evoe" and "Evening Chant."

Thursday evening in Rockwell Hall Auditorium, Buffalo State College.

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