Review: Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet - Triple Bill - Sadler's Wells

Performance: 27 & 28 September 2013
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Monday 30 September 2013

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet 'Indigo Rose' Photo: Bettina Strenske

‘Indigo Rose / Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue/ Necessity, Again
Performance reviewed: 27 September

The name Cedar Lake conjures up for me an idea of some spooky isolated lakeside lodge, surrounded by zombies or werewolves. In fact this subliminal product placement of the horror genre comes from a mash-up of several films with similar titles, such as Cedar Falls, Cedar Rapids, Eden Lake and Crystal Lake. The idea of scary surprises was certainly aided and abetted by the misty, dark sombreness of another Crystal here in Cedar Lake, since Crystal Pite’s Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue – the middle part of this trio – carried a Ripperesque Whitechapel flavour of atmospheric danger.

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet is paying a quick return visit to the UK, having scored a palpable hit in its brief debut season at Sadler’s Wells almost exactly one year ago. Such a success that this time the Islington venue is but the beginning of a nationwide Dance Consortium tour through October that will also take in performances (of this same programme) in Cardiff, Edinburgh, Bradford and Leicester.

This tremendous ensemble comprises sixteen dancers from a mix of American and international backgrounds. Taken collectively they hail from five continents and the flavour of the company’s work is unquestionably transatlantic, mixing the strength of contemporary choreographers from Europe and North America. These performers are at the very pinnacle of their profession and they are a delight to watch, whatever the material they are interpreting.

The opening work – Jirí Kylián’s Indigo Rose – has been seen in London before, performed by the NDT2 company upon which the work was created (back in 1998). It looks every bit at home on the loaned bodies of the Cedar Lake crew as it did on those young dancers of Nederlands Dans Theater. In common with all of Kylián’s prolific output there is a highly stylised and structured whirlpool of imagery in Indigo Rose within which dance and other visual references swirl alongside each other with meaning but without any trace of narrative intent.

The key device here is a line that cuts diagonally through the space and I recall that when I first saw this work – back in 2000 – I originally thought it was a laser beam. Instead it is effectively a subtle piece of curtain track along which a large white sail is eventually drawn to create a playground of lighting effects (by Michael Simon) in which the dancers’ bodies are silhouetted in a variety of moving sizes where, for example, giants suddenly become dwarves. Much less effective were the stop-start, frozen and jumpy black and white images of dancers projected onto the upper-right quartile of the backcloth in the later stages. The music is about as eclectic as can be – ranging from Couperin, through Bach, to John Cage and Robert Ashley and covering more than two centuries in the mix – and again it was hard to make linkages between this chopped-up soundscape and the movement material. The dancers were wonderful, the visual appeal was mysteriously appealing (and the images endured through succeeding days) but the conceptual flow was frustratingly elusive and the ending was an anticlimax at odds with the work’s earlier vigour.

Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue continues to build Pite’s reputation in the UK. A former member of Ballett Frankfurt under the mentorship of William Forsythe, Pite formed her own company (Kidd Pivot) a decade ago and rumour has it that she is in discussions to create works for both the Royal Ballet and Scottish Ballet (fingers crossed). Her product has an unerring ability to draw the audience into a world of mysterious beauty, often shrouded with jeopardy and risk, yet also tinged with movement humour (as it is here when a man, running fast in tiny steps with hand outstretched, is unable to catch up with a girl taking long, slow steps on demi-pointe). This work – premiered in 2008 – is again out of her top drawer (I haven’t yet seen one that isn’t) with the entire concept based on the notion of rescue. It gained from the atmospheric lighting designs of Jim French, with dancers surrounded by a semi circle of moveable spotlights that created an intimidating, exposing environment from which the small cast of five liberated one another through their ten interlinked duets.

Some loveable existentialist nonsense brought the show to a close in Necessity, Again by the Norwegian choreographer, theatre director and playwright, Jo Strømgren. His extraordinarily diverse repertoire includes The Nutcracker for Vienna State Opera Ballet and other works for many established ballet companies (including the full house of Royal Danish, Royal Norwegian and Royal Swedish Ballets) but it also spreads over many, if not most, of the world’s greatest contemporary dance ensembles. His Winter, Again for Scottish Dance Theatre was seen in the intimate surroundings of The Place earlier this year (he also has a Sunday, Again in the Cedar Lake repertory).

Necessity Again takes its theme from the “free space between the words” which is, of course, another way of saying that it is essentially meaningless. The stage is covered in sheets of A4-sized paper, which are also pinned to lines of string stretched across the space like photographs waiting for the ink to dry. In the later stages even one of the dancers (Navarra Novy-Williams) has a costume onto which paper is liberally stapled. Some spoken text quoting Jacques Derrida – the architect of the philosophical concept of deconstruction – is linked into a series of French songs performed by Charles Aznavour but – other than the psychological, existentialist, Gallic link – there is no point in wondering where the connections might be. The dancers clearly have fun in a party atmosphere that creates an upbeat ending to a fascinating show. All these talented dancers deserve a name check but two, in particular, caught (and held) my eye: Ebony Williams in the first two works and Jon Bond throughout the whole programme.

I have a strong and welcome feeling that Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet will be regular visitors to the UK in future years.

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet tour the UK until 19 October:

Photos: Bettina Strenske

Graham Watts writes for, Dance Tabs, Dancing Times and other magazines and websites in Europe, Japan and the USA. He is Chairman of the Dance Section of the Critics’ Circle in the UK.

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