Gregg Mozgala, the title character of Diagnosis of a Faun
The characters in Tamar Rogoff’s Diagnosis of a Faun, which premiered on Thursday evening at La MaMa Annex, were transported to unfamiliar worlds where they struggled to heal and understand their bodies in two very different ways: through science and art. Rogoff’s cast – two professionally trained dancers, a doctor, and an actor who has cerebral palsy – was equally challenged, as she required them to physically move beyond their comfort zones. The piece is memorable not only because of the opportunity to watch an actor with cerebral palsy, Gregg Mozgala, move so beautifully and fluidly as the Faun, but also because of the creative way in which the piece conveyed the medical and emotional healing process.
Moving between a mythical forest and a hospital, Diagnosis of a Faun told the story of an injured professional ballet dancer (Lucie Baker) whose career depends on the surgery she must undergo at the hospital, and the story of a 5000-year-old Faun that also lands in the hospital, where he draws the attention and fascination of doctors. Frequent narration from “Dr. A” (Dr. Don Kollisch) and “Dr. B” (Emily Pope-Blackman, a dancer) provided the audience with in-depth scientific explanations of the dancer’s injury and the faun’s unique way of moving, while solos and duets that were alternately poignant and funny revealed the emotional struggles of the dancer and faun. When the scientific and artistic portrayals overlapped, they resulted in a painful or humorous outcome. As Dr. A attempted to examine the dancer’s Achilles tendon and articulate the surgical procedure, she developed her leg to the side and did combinations as if she were at a ballet barre taking class. And when Dr. B explained the faun’s condition, the faun simply let out a noise that sounded like a moaning lamb. In both instances, the characters were unaware of the other’s way of addressing an injury.
Emily Pope-Blackman and Gregg Mozgala in rehearsal, photo by Andrea Mohin
The mingling of scientific and artistic mindsets, frequently conveyed through partnering, was most powerful. A stunning duet for Pope-Blackman and Mozgala set within the forest allowed for a role reversal where the faun examined Dr. B. Her initial discomfort with the situation and her surroundings turned to overwhelming pleasure. Back in the hospital, in a dramatic scene that magnified the dancer’s face and utilized the sound of a heartbeat for added suspense, Dr. A successfully operated on the dancer. The two performed a celebratory pas de deux from Sleeping Beauty. Hesitant in his new role on stage, the doctor took verbal direction from the happily healed dancer.
Inevitably, the dancer and faun – the two artists – encountered one another in the forest, where she learned how to move like him (by now, she had shed her pointe shoes and white tutu). Mozgala and Baker’s lush movement included weight shifts, hunched torsos, and animalistic entanglements that were an abrupt change from Baker’s balletic quality seen earlier in the piece. Sadly, she returned to her world, leaving the faun in solitude once again, only able to remember the dancer by her lingering scent. As the piece echoed Nijinsky’s 1912 Afternoon of a Faun, it also suggested the limitations of a science-meets-art encounter. That is, with the healing process complete, scientific and artistic minds returned to what they knew best. The doctor preferred the operating table to the stage, while the dancer preferred the stage to the operating table.
Diagnosis of a Faun continues at La MaMa on Thursdays through Sundays until December 20th. 66 East 4th Street between 2nd Avenue and The Bowery.