Posted by: trailerpilot | 11:16::2009

Cedar Lake’s real Chicago debut.

Although this New York company has visited us before, in 2004 as the Cedar Lake Ensemble, last weekend’s pair of shows at the Auditorium were a first look at the identity into which Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet is settling under Benoit-Swan Pouffer, with whom I spoke last week. (His predecessor L. Jen Ballard’s brief and rocky tenure as artistic director is viewed by many, including myself, as something of a beta test.) They brought fifteen dancers and three one-act pieces for a program as strong as any of the incredible shows that have been seen here this year.

Cedar Lake dancers in Sunday, Again. Photo by Carina Musk-Anderson.

Cedar Lake dancers in Sunday, Again. Photo by Carina Musk-Anderson.

Opener Sunday, Again, by Jo Strømgren, worms its way into more emotional environments than the WASPy white costumes and prim Bach mixtape let on. Its first scene, a duet between Jason Kittelberger and Acacia Schachte, is peppered with abstract sight gags and tragicomic bits of nastiness, but also surprise poetry: the ripple of the back scrim as each in turn storms over to punch it was as moving as it was simple. The town-and-country ensemble appears in white socks for a series of dances that let the leitmotif—“luxury problems and gender frictions,” per Strømgren’s notes—sink in before the magnification of individual characters. Strømgren sneaks these sketches in with aplomb: Men stomp across the stage dragging a badminton net while Soojin Choi and Ana-Maria Lucaciu root around in each other’s crotches for a missing shuttlecock; Golan Yousef holds Ebony Williams aloft like an offering in front of 13 bodies rearranging themselves into a string of tableaux like some kind of pre-Raphaelite photo shoot. Transitions between scenes are often filled with chatter and noise unintelligible from the house but pointed specifically at the familiar (concerned whispering, nattering gossip). Sunday, Again maintains an open question about what it is until the very end, but its masterfully-composed arc feels complete nonetheless.

Silence, and selections from Cliff Martinez‘ soundtrack for Solaris (the Soderbergh, not the Tarkovsky), score Crystal Pite‘s Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue. The permutationally-paired-off quintet is visible only as bodies in space: Backlit by small spots on tall booms, the dancers’ faces are barely perceptible, leaving us to focus on Pite’s slippery use of manipulation (one performer often “puppets” another) and tricky cuttings-in. When it comes to movement invention, this Vancouver-based choreographer leaves most of her field in the dust: It’s difficult, especially in near-darkness, to follow how things are happening physically, but the pictures themselves speak clearly. This mystery and impact, combined and balanced, makes for a seriously-potent combination in the hands of Williams, Choi, Jubal Battisti, Jon Bond and Nickemil Concepcion. With regard to the prenominate theme, Pite slyly leaks out that it’s just as much about people not rescuing each other. A few moments, like a man running like mad to grasp a hand coldly extended from a speeding container, or a dancer caught from a fall for just a moment before being dropped to the ground, display the breadth with which Pite approached her subject.

Photo: Paul B. Goode.

Cedar Lake dancers in Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue. Photo: Paul B. Goode.

Tucked inside Didy Veldman‘s frame of view is the proverbial piece that’s half as long and twice as good. The nine-member cast attacked each vignette with all cylinders firing, but the strongest of them (Kittelberger’s Matrix-style fistfight with Harumi Terayama, beautiful solos for Schachte and Lucaciu) were dimmed by slack pacing and unnecessary interludes. Miriam Buether‘s designs for the costumes (party clothes in a Dick Tracy palette) and scenery (a forced-perspective yellow box with three freestanding doors) occasionally grabbed more of my interest than what was happening in them. Still, frame of view‘s best pictures have lingered the longest.

Cedar Lake’s repertoire is full of work by choreographers—Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Alexander Ekman, Hofesh Shechter, Jacopo Godani, Angelin Preljocaj—seldom if ever seen in Chicago, and its dancers are special, powerful beings. Presenters: Bring this company back, and soon.

Postscript: I’m not privy to the backstory on why this intensely image-conscious contemporary dance company chooses to include the words cedar, lake and ballet in its name, but I can’t imagine it’s doing brand recognition any favors, especially outside of New York. Sure, I’ve known of them long enough that I “see the brand” when I hear the name, but I can’t imagine the average culture vulture coughing up for single tickets to see something sexy and edgy from out of town is likely to find their way from Mediterranean woodlands and tutus to what’s really on offer. Just sayin’.

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