Review: Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet - Mixed Bill - Sadler's Wells
Hofesh Shechter’s Violet Kid /Alexander Ekmann’s Tuplet / Crystal Pite’s Grace Engine
Reviewed: 11 October
This first UK sighting of the latest in a long line of hip dance companies to emerge from the New York scene has been eagerly anticipated. At first glance Cedar Lake’s debut programme of largely European work seemed an odd way for this US -based company to open up their stall in London. But when one considers that this multi-national ensemble is run by a French Artistic Director (Benoit-Swan Pouffer) then it is perhaps not so surprising. Whatever the continental origin of the dance, our expectations were not to be disappointed since this was a triple bill of new works (all of 2011/12 vintage) that provided a moody, atmospheric, occasionally chilling sandwich that came with a light and funny filling.
The middle work – Tuplet – was by Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekmann, who has already had a hit this year in London with NDT2’s Cacti. Now, he’s 2-0 up! I thoroughly enjoyed this set of miniature capsules of dance, joined together by a leit motif of six white mats, one for each of the performers. The capsules included a great solo (I’m guessing it was by Jon Bond since the crisp, hyper-flexible dancing was performed in silhouette) and a clever, innovative passage of the sextet creating individual movement motifs to be their danced signatures. The repeated morphing of these movements against their names being announced in random and often consecutive sequences was lightweight stuff but very funny. The whole work was an exercise in creating rhythm from the dancers’ bodies and the frequent percussive, Kathak-style vocals. The soundscape ricochets from these on-stage rhythms to a recorded score, which included a super-fast jazz version of Fly Me to the Moon. At around just 20 minutes long this was, as the Artistic Director so aptly described in the programme notes, an excellent “ palette cleanser” to sit between the two darker works.
The opening piece by Hofesh Shechter – Violet Kid – would look great to anyone unfamiliar with his recent body of work in the UK and elsewhere. Taken outside of this context, it is a serious, noirish work with threatening undertones of violent street fighting and execution in which the choreographer fuses all the elements of lighting, his own superb, ominous music, spoken text and a tremendous feel for space in the swirling sequences of dance for mixed groups of the fourteen dancers. They have regular bouts of ape-like movement, traversing the floor as if swinging from unseen vines attached to the stage. But, having seen much of his output in recent years, little appeared to be new.
There was wit in some of the words ( “for the sake of inconsistency, I’m not going to talk to you anymore” ) and I was fascinated by an end sequence that appeared to link from a chain gang into a prison exercise yard, with the convicts trudging around within a circle of spotlight from directly above. But, we have seen so many of the motifs used by Shechter in Violet Kid before in other recent works, such as Political Mother , Uprising and Survivor: the spoken text; subdued downward lighting with immediate switches to glaring brightness; musicians barely visible on a higher plane at the rear of the stage; dancers lined up – severely lit – as if awaiting execution; the threatened execution itself (here accompanied by the voiceover proclaiming “that’s good” ); and a typically abrupt and climactic ending. To a newcomer to Shechter’s work, Violet Kid will have a strong impact. But, set against his recent output, I found it comparatively tame: more mild disturbance than uprising.
The evening’s deepest piece was Crystal Pite’s fascinating Grace Engine, which had an undoubted North American flavour given the strong sound of railroads and the harsh lights of a West Side Rumble. It even seemed to be set within a darkened, empty parking lot punctuated by bouts of closely choreographed unarmed combat between rival gangs composed from this remarkable ensemble of fourteen brilliant dancers.
Pite’s choreography is both brutal and tender, giving tantalising glimpses of narrative that are swiftly brushed aside, while a thin strip of light gives the impressions of a timeline. The violent edge is intermingled with two surprisingly soft duets but the tension builds to an inevitable denouement of a body lying on the floor. Like Tuplet this is one to see again, for sure, even if I felt that I’d seen Violet Kid before.
Continues until Saturday 13 October
Graham Watts writes for many publications including DanceTabs and Dancing Times. He is Chair of the Critics’ Circle Dance Section.
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