Marina Mascarell, Jason Kittelberger, and Jubal Battisti in Didy Veldman’s frame of view, photo by Julieta Cervantes
Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet does not hide from its audience. Whether through open rehearsals, video footage of the dancers, or conversations with choreographers, the company invites the public – often via the internet – to go behind the scenes when the dancers aren’t on stage. One would think that so much visibility would lead to few surprises come performance time. But at Thursday’s opening night of the winter season, which runs through January 18th, Cedar Lake’s triple bill still managed to surprise and impress me.
Artistic director Benoit-Swan Pouffer enjoys inviting European choreographers to create new work for the company. Dutch choreographer Didy Veldman made her US choreographic debut with frame of view, a thought-provoking world premiere that closed the program. Three yellow doors, a chair and table, and a framed structure of tubes transformed the stage into a room. These are not merely props, but rather partners and often catalysts for the dancers’ range of emotions, desires, and frustrations. What the characters disclose in one room – when alone – might be strikingly different from what they reveal (or conceal) in an exterior scene with a group of people. Soojin Choi hooks her foot around the doorframe and extends her arms into the room, only to recoil and slam the door shut, afraid to enter. Ana-Maria Lucaciu is in agony – and wonderfully melodramatic – about being alone as she alternately lifts herself and collapses onto a desk. Acacia Schachte struts seductively while a group of men surround her, but as soon as they depart, she hesitates before Christopher Adams ominously tempts her to the other side of the door. Jubal Battisti, a standout of the evening who deserves to be featured more often, is deadpan as he throws confetti over a clashing couple moving in slow motion (Jason Kittelberger and the excellent Marina Mascarell). Later, he quietly rescues Mascarell every time she falls, even as she continues screaming Kittelberger’s name. Battisti’s duet with the yellow turtleneck that he’s wearing depicts his struggle to expose a part of himself that people rarely see. Overall, the dancers convincingly connect to their intriguing characters’ emotions.
The human stories in frame of view – varyingly humorous, ironic, and touching – could be compared to Pina Bausch’s ongoing exploration of the human experience in her own dance theater repertoire, but Veldman has infused this piece with intensely athletic movement that the dancers have made their own. Costumes by Miriam Buether distinguish each character, and the music (arranged by Philip Feeney) flows nicely, ranging from Offenbach to Pink Martini to Dean Martin, among several others.
Jon Bond and Acacia Schachte in Luca Veggetti’s memory/measure, photo by Julieta Cervantes
The second world premiere on the program, memory/measure by Italian choreographer Luca Veggetti, is starkly different from Veldman’s work. Two male-female couples in sleek black costumes take direction from a narrative that is heard in the midst of a painfully harsh electronic score by Paolo Aralla. If the woman says, “She looked up to the sky”, Acacia Schachte would do so. Such literal interpretation is not compelling, nor does its repetition ever amount to anything. The movement ranges from slow, steady walks around the perimeter of a white square to edgy, angular partnering that is intensified by dramatic overhead lighting. I admire the dancers’ ability to remain focused and dreadfully serious throughout this piece, but one viewing was sufficient.
Cedar Lake dancers in Crystal Pite’s Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue, photo by Julieta Cervantes
Crystal Pite’s otherworldly Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue, a revival from last year’s winter season, conveys rescue in every sense of the word. Pite wrote in the program notes that this work was “an act of excavation” in which she searched for images that evoked rescue. The semi-circle of floodlights creates a mysterious, deserted space for five dancers who are pushed beyond their limits. To Cliff Martinez’s pulsing score, the dancers prove that they’re in command of Pite’s bold partnering. The duets move swiftly and the dancers seamlessly from one duet to the next as they change partners. Their fluidity is astounding on its own, but Jim French’s superb lighting design enhances Jon Bond’s splayed fingers as he reaches for Soojin Choi, or Jubal Battisti’s distant gaze, or Ebony Williams’ profile as she sits crouched in a ball, head hanging down, before exploding into fierce kinetic energy. Ten Duets is not only a physical feat, but also an honest, gripping exploration of what it means to be emotionally rescued. This mesmerizing piece will undoubtedly become one of Cedar Lake’s signature works.
Cedar Lake’s winter season continues through January 18th. Tickets can be ordered online, and use the code “NEWS40” to receive a 40% discount.