Cedar Lake dancers in Jo Stromgren’s Sunday, Again, photo by Carina Musk-Anderson
On my way to Chelsea on Monday evening for Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet‘s opening night of their spring season, I reminded myself that I wouldn’t have the freedom to roam around the amazing space watching dancers dangle from the ceiling or interact with one another on a wall of blocks, as they did in the Glassy Essence installation at the end of April. This time, the seating was back in place, and I would have to stay in my chair throughout the performance while the dancers remained on stage. Fortunately, I didn’t sense a barrier between the action on stage and the audience. Perhaps this was because I was lucky enough to have a front-row seat just inches from the dancers, but I think it had more to do with the dancers’ ability to break down any existing barriers with their captivating performance that had the power to engage the audience for the entire evening.
Nicolo Fonte’s Lasting Imprint, which was created for Cedar Lake in 2006, explored the connection between movement and sound. The piece started in silence, with the dancers moving slowly, with control, and then suddenly stopping to form sharp poses. The silence created an intense serenity that was heightened by the commanding but non-threatening presence of Jason Kittelberger. Just as I grew comfortable with the patterns of movement and stillness, Steve Reich’s Triple Quartet shattered the silence as red light flooded the stage and the movement quickened. One dancer’s speed and explosiveness was the catalyst for another, creating an edgy, continuous rush of dancing.
Jason Kittelberger and Jessica Coleman Scott in Nicolo Fonte’s Lasting Imprint, photo by Paul B. Goode
In the midst of the fierce movement, Kittelberger appeared with white paint covering his face, shaved head, and bare torso. It seemed that he was tugging at his own body, appearing just as surprised as I was that he was suddenly covered in paint. His fluidity was so striking that it looked as if he had no bones. He became more alert as Jessica Coleman Scott – touchingly vulnerable and full of wonder – approached him, and he slowly pressed his head against her spine, letting the white paint streak her gray leotard. This was a particularly striking, sensual image. There was an interesting hand-eye connection throughout their duet: His hand covered her eyes, only to be pushed away by her hand as she turned and gazed at him. It seemed like Fonte wanted Lasting Imprint to be emotionally and psychologically challenging for both the dancers and audience. He created a world full of contrasts – silence and screeching sound, stillness and explosive movement – that left me feeling uncertain about their meaning. Perhaps that uncertainty is the lasting imprint. Excerpts from the piece, with commentary from Fonte, can be seen here.
After watching a rehearsal video of Angelin Preljocaj’s Annonciation, I was eager to view the full duet and gain a better understanding of the piece. Jessica Lee Keller was wide-eyed and anxious, beautiful and terrified as Mary, while Acacia Schachte was profound, graceful, and authoritative as the Angel. Moving upon a bright red floor to Vivaldi’s Magnificat, which was fragmented by Stephane Roy’s electronic Crystal Music, Keller and Schachte made points of physical contact that energized their relationship. In one chilling instant, Schachte intently pierced Keller’s mouth with her thumb. They flew through phrases of movement at lightning-speed with elegance and precision in every step. As they collapsed to the floor, it was easy to hear their heavy breathing. This served as a reminder that the dancers are truly human, and in this case, it also emphasized their sensuality. In a powerful moment, the Angel kissed Mary just as the music reached a dramatic climax, and then, quite suddenly, the music became more fragmented and mushy. The Angel swirled through a rapid rewind of everything that just occurred, and exited the stage from where she entered, leaving Mary alone, as if the entire momentous event hadn’t transpired.
Jessica Lee Keller and Acacia Schachte rehearsing Angelin Preljocaj’s Annonciation, photo by Paul B. Goode
While Lasting Imprint and Annonciation were equally emotionally intense, Jo Stromgren’s full-company Sunday, Again, created for Cedar Lake this year, provided a welcomed lift to the evening, and turned out to be the most stirring, ecstatic, and unique piece on the program. According to Stromgren’s notes, the piece “thematically treats the domestic jungle of luxury problems and gender frictions”, and it does so by means of a witty, theatrical badminton game set to Bach’s richly colorful Jesu, Meine Freude and The Well-Tempered Clavier. While clusters of dancers ran about the stage throwing birdies or dragging a badminton net, various duets illustrated tense relationships. Jason Kittelberger and Acacia Schachte longed to escape from their oppressive domestic life. Jubal Battisti playfully chased the adorable Harumi Terayama as he tried to seize the birdie she had in her mouth. Jessica Coleman Scott continually grabbed Ana-Maria Lucaciu. This first appeared to be sexual, but Scott was only looking for – and eventually retrieved – the birdie hidden in Lucaciu’s pants. A cheerful, invigorating duet between Jessica Lee Keller and Nickemil Concepcion was interrupted by the full cast so that they could delight in sweeping movement on both sides of a badminton net. The dancers moved with clarity and vigor, and what started out as whispering early in the piece now rose to full-volume shouting.
Jessica Lee Keller and Nickemil Concepcion in Jo Stromgren’s Sunday, Again, photo by Carina Musk-Anderson
It’s not often that I compare dances to Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room, that out-of-body, exhilarating piece that is in a league of its own. But Sunday, Again is right up there. Stromgren nicely balanced the theatrics and humorous bits with deeper ideas, all tied together with fluid, kinetic movement at which the dancers excelled, and which is so pleasing to the eye. Additionally, the dancers’ personalities and quirks seemed to be woven into the fabric of this piece, so that when they danced as an ensemble, their uniqueness and distinct movement qualities matched the richness of the music and choreography.
Cedar Lake’s spring season continues, with alternating casts, through June 15th.
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