'Enter the Faun': Film Review
Has dance training "rewired" the brain of an actor with cerebral palsy?
When choreographer Tamar Rogoff first encountered Gregg Mozgala, an actor with cerebral palsy, she thought his unusual physical presence would make for a unique piece of dance. She didn't expect creating that dance to leave the performer so dramatically changed that he might walk down the street without revealing his disability. But that's what happens during Enter the Faun, in which Rogoff and co-director Daisy Wright follow the roughly yearlong process from training to opening night. Though the filmmaking is no-frills, the doc (arriving more than five years after the dance performance) will be of great interest not just to dance enthusiasts but to those whose lives are touched by CP.
Mozgala caught the choreographer's eye in a performance of Romeo and Juliet, displaying a sensuality that led her to think of mythology's libidinous, boundary-crossing faun. But in her initial sessions, directing Mozgala and an able-bodied partner, she realized he could hardly move through a dance gesture without losing his balance. Dancing with him was "like leaning on a sandcastle."
She set out to help him "reroute" his "alignment choices," helping him overcome his fear of the ground and place his feet steadily upon it. By the fourth month of their work together, Mozgala — whose heels had previously never touched the ground as he walked — was capable of heel-toe footsteps. Rogoff had no background in physical therapy, but her coaching (point your tailbone here, your sternum there) had done what years of therapy and trips to the doctor could not. Soon, we see him walking so steadily he's able to goof around with strangers on the street, studying their individual gaits in search of his own style. (He also comes to be nostalgic for the weird buoyancy of his old, "swanky" attention-getting walk.)
We watch as Mozgala grows more confident in rehearsals with two female partners; here and with his and Rogoff's exercises, the intimacy that always exists between dancers feels more charged than usual. Unusual challenges arise, as when work atop a raised piece of scenery arouses Mozgala's terror of losing balance.
As the performance approaches, we get just enough time with doctors to help us believe the transformation happening before us. "His nervous system," one marvels, "is actually educable" instead of being immutable. Viewers may well wish for a bit more science, a bit more footage from the dance's premiere, a bit more post-show follow-up than this brisk film provides. But what's here suffices to stoke one's hope for new ways of treating those suffering from this crippling disorder.
Production company: Tamar Rogoff Performance Projects
Directors-Producers: Tamar Rogoff, Daisy Wright
Executive producers: Veronique Bernard, Amy Handy, Jason Handy, Patricia Mozgala, Ilana Reich, Gregg Mozgala
Directors of photography: Andrew Baker, Richard Sandler, Greta Schiller, Harvey Wang, Paul Zink
Editor: Daisy Wright
Composer: Justin Samaha
Venue: Dance on Camera Festival, Film Society of Lincoln Center