Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet is one of my favorite companies. Their dancers are gorgeous and they possess impeccable technique, but what I love most about them is that they are each such strong individuals. More than with any group of dancers I’ve seen lately, each Cedar Lake dancer brings his or her own unique and beautiful signature to the movement. These distinctive voices fuse so wonderfully whether the dancers are performing as soloists, as partners, or in an ensemble.
I didn’t get the chance to see them at the Joyce last year, nor could I arrange to see the first program in this season. So I was kind of disappointed when I took my seat in the theater and opened my Playbill only to find out that I’d already seen two of the pieces the program.
Then the lights went down and the curtain went up and my disappointment vanished. From the opening duet, melancholy as the subject matter seemed to be, I was riveted. This dance, Sunday Again, choreographed by Jo Stromgren, brings to life the “domestic jungle of luxury problems and gender frictions”. The dancers, dressed in tennis whites, express tenderness, anger, neglect, flirtation, and more anger as they prepare for and finally engage in a weekend game of badminton.
I didn’t really know what to make of The Fools, choreographed by Hofesh Shechter, which was the one dance on the program that I was seeing for the first time. Though I really liked some of the movement, I got the feeling that there was some narrative to the piece that I just couldn’t figure out. The piece opens with several of the dancers (referred to as the Shadows in the program) dressed in black coats, black pants, black gloves and Clark Kent glasses, executing a simple repetitive, almost African style step to a really exciting percussion accompaniment. I was expecting the dancing to explode into something big. Instead, the music stopped abruptly and the dancers were each seated in a chair along the back wall of the stage, facing the audience. Then another group appeared in their white underwear. I don’t know much about what to say about their movement other than that much of it was close to the ground. Later on this group returned to the stage dressed in trousers and plaid shirts and Clark Kent glasses. At one point, the percussion music started up again and this group executed the same simple step with which the Shadows began the piece, adding on a little turn. I was sure that I’d completely lost the plot when this group came to the front of the stage and set up a red plastic triangular flag with a fan blowing on it. Lola and I questioned what that red flag could be representing, but we were both at a loss. At the end of the piece, the dancers returned in their underwear. Throughout the piece, slides occasionally flashed on the back of the stage, announcing the title of the piece and which part of the dance was coming next.
I understand that it’s incumbent upon each audience member to decide for himself what the dance means. But ever since I began working in marketing for DeMa, I’ve become really aware of the audience’s hunger for a just a few words of context from the choreographer. A sentence or two in the program might have made the difference in my ability to understand and appreciate what was going on.
The evening closed with Frame of View, which is a spectacular piece that showcases the strengths of this company. There is a set on stage with three yellow doors and invisible walls. A series of vignettes are played out in this space, reminding me of what life can be like amid the comings and goings of the tenants in a six family house. Some dancers hesitate to walk through a door. Others can barely contain their curiosity about their neighbors and what is going on beyond their doors. One lonely man eavesdrops on a loud festive party on the other side of his door. One young woman delights in her ability to have caught the eye of a cadre of young men and, after closing her door in their faces, celebrates by staging a euphoric private dance for herself.
Though I truly love the work of every dancer in this company, I was most entertained by the slow motion fight carried out between Harumi Terayama and the devastating Nickemil Concepcion. Another highlight was Ebony Williams’ heartbreaking solo performed to Nina Simone’s rendition of Jacques Brel’s Ne Me Quitte Pas. The piece closes with the ensemble grooving together to Dean Martin’s The Door Is Still Open To My Heart.
It was great to see this company and I look forward to seeing them again.