L’Apres Midi d’un Faune is considered one of the great revolutionary ballets. Choreographed by the famous and infamous Vaslav Nijinsky, it is a ten-minute piece that required more than one hundred rehearsals. A faun encounters a nymph in the woods, and they court each other briefly. She leaves him, but forgets a scarf. The faun substitutes the scarf for her and cradles it, eventually thrusting his body into it in a shocking moment of auto-eroticism. Breaking many established rules of ballet up until that point, the piece was primarily danced in parallel (as opposed to turned out), treated the stage as a purely two-dimensional picture frame, and ended with the Faun masturbated by thrusting himself against the nymph’s scarf. This choreography offended the theatregoers of its time, by fiercely challenging their idea of stage propriety.
I recently stumbled on another ballet piece, set to the same music by Claude Debussy, also by a famous choreographer. Jerome Robbins, famed for West Side Story, Dances at a Gathering, and Fancy Free (among others) did a piece called Afternoon of the Faun. This piece is a slow, sensuous pas de deux that takes place not in a mythic forest, but a ballet rehearsal studio. It begins with a young ballet dancer sleeping on the floor. He wakes, stretches, and is joined by a female student. They flirt, and he offers her a kiss. She does not accept it, and exits the studio. The piece is easy to digest, pleasant.
I also was reminded of a piece I encountered in my first year at BU called Diagnosis of a Faun . This piece, by Tamar Rogoff, features Gregg Mozgala, a BU graduate. He has suffered from cerebral palsy his whole life, which has caused him to walk with massively turned in legs. Through the work on this piece, he gained the ability to walk to the point that he would not be stopped on the street as having cerebral palsy. The dance piece created centers around a 5,000 year-old faun transported through time to a modern hospital.
These three examples, drawn from on beginning idea, demostrate to me the power and necessity of adaptation and, therefore, dramaturgy. Realizing that all stories are connected makes it possible to at once identify with a known quantity, while also diverging from it in a meaningful way. Rogoff’s and Robbins pieces gain a deeper resonance through their reference to the original, ground-breaking work of Nijinsky.