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February 2, 2012 5:14 pm
As the only dance company founded and bankrolled by a Walmart heiress, the New York-based Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet was always going to be a maverick. Nine years after its birth, it has also proved a fruitful artistic venture, perhaps because of its very oddity: in a contemporary dance world where companies tend to exist only to serve a choreographer’s vision, Cedar Lake has no founding father or history to live up to. Fresh, hungry for new movement and blessed with the funds to make it happen, the 16-strong ensemble is the ultimate blank slate, and on the strength of the three new works it brought to Lyon this week, is right to aim high.
The UK-based Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter opened the evening with Violet Kid, his second creation for Cedar Lake. Premiered in 2011, it’s a trenchant piece, both attuned to its times and rewarding on an abstract level. The cumulative effect of the choreography as it builds is impressive, with Forsythe-like complexity throughout in the interlocking of structure and chaos. Shechter also composed the score, a dialogue of sorts between a live string trio and recorded percussion; the underlying rhythm drives the choreography forward relentlessly, with an urgency in ensemble work that has become typical of the Israeli dance scene.
Shechter blends a range of contemporary material into the choreography, from street influences to electro dance. Though the 14 dancers regularly break away from the group to ride the music in fluid phrases, a ritualistic sense of the collective prevails. Time and again, they let the beat rip through their bodies, throbbing like rave-goers in a trance, and when the cast comes to a halt for the first time in that awkward retiré while the percussive pulse rages on, the discrepancy says it all: in Shechter’s tumultuous world, such stillness makes little sense.
Like Violet Kid, Alexander Ekman’s Tuplet is all about rhythm. The Swedish choreographer is a master of comic timing, and with this premiere, he has offered Cedar Lake a refreshing exploration of the way sounds can trigger steps. One extended solo is set to a human beatbox-like recitation, mirroring it with stunning precision; later on, the six dancers featured are each assigned a movement associated with their real name, called out by an electronic voice-over: “Terayama” becomes a wistful stretch, “Bond” a brisk slap in the air played for laughs. Beyond the visual gags, Ekman wittily lays out some of the basics of musicality in dance, and the cast rose to the occasion with very effective performances.
The other world premiere on the programme, Crystal Pite’s Grace Engine, lacked the dance-music alchemy that seemed to define the rest of the evening, but it rose above the ordinary in a beautifully subdued closing duo for two women. Clever programming, a versatile group of dancers and a commendable lack of triteness: Cedar Lake certainly made its case with panache on its first visit to France.
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