Cedar Lake dancers in Benoit Swan-Pouffer’s installation, photo by Evan Namerow
The delicate voice of a woman whispered, “There is more than you know”. Her words, which were part of Stefano Zazzera’s music compilation for Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet’s installation this past weekend, rang true throughout the work. The audience was encouraged (as they are with all of the company’s interactive installations) to move around Cedar Lake’s spacious theater, and as the dancers and environment also shifted – there were many costume, music, and lighting changes, along with atmospheric haze – it became impossible to view everything at once, creating the sensation of being in a constantly shifting gallery space. The result was a fragmented experience. This is not a criticism of artistic director Benoit Swan-Pouffer’s choreography (perhaps the work is coherent for him and the dancers when rehearsed without an audience), but rather a reality of the installation format. It is both thrilling and frustrating, forcing the audience to yearn to see more yet also find satisfaction in what they are able to absorb in the shifting space.
The fourteen dancers walked a fine line between civility and rage. In one instance, set to opera music, they stood motionless around a large table, and in the next their spines curled and limbs thrashed as they scurried below or onto the table. They grabbed at each other’s necks, climbed brick walls, and flashed maniacal grins with the help of a piece of plastic that looked like it only belonged in a dentist’s office. Male aggression pulsed throughout the work: the men had a menacing presence, while the women often appeared vulnerable and manipulated in male-female partnering (this seems to be increasingly common in contemporary ballet partnering), and only powerful or combative when facing other women. While the movement showed off the dancers’ athleticism, fluidity, and flexibility – Harumi Terayama, Jubal Battisti, Nickemil Concepcion, and Acacia Schachte stood out – it didn’t seem as important as the special effects that bring a sensational quality to Cedar Lake’s installations. Watching dancers dangle from the ceiling, crawl along the walls, and mysteriously emerge or disappear amidst strobe lights and haze is a treat for new audiences, but if not accompanied by any substantive movement or themes, it loses its effect. Nevertheless, the dancers effortlessly navigated their way around the crowds, and Jim French’s lighting design and Adam Larsen’s projections were commendable.
Harumi Terayama and Soojin Choi
Since the installation format demands the audience to become interactive participants rather than passive, stationary viewers, there is an opportunity to engage with the dancers – not only with eye contact, but also with movement and touch. To intentionally or fearfully move away from the dancers as they approach is to diminish one of the most unique parts of the installation experience. Sadly, at least on Saturday evening, it seemed to be the rule and not the exception, which suggests that there still exists an invisible barrier between the dancers and audience. This is a pity, because the brief interaction I shared with Oscar Ramos was poignant and memorable; it was also calming after the rush of movement that had occurred moments before. And it was a reminder that the dancers are not zoo animals on display or gods and goddesses at which to marvel, but rather human beings. One can only hope that the dancers, too, appreciate the chance to interact with audience members because it adds unpredictability to their performances.
It was strangely satisfying yet bewildering to experience the myriad atmospheric transformations that occurred throughout the installation. Moreover, not fully grasping the world that I encountered, nor knowing when and where its creatures would emerge (or sneak up behind me), set the installation apart from a traditional, seated performance. Indeed, not knowing what to expect, along with those rare interactive moments, are what make Cedar Lake’s installations enticing. There is always more than you know.
Matthew Rich and Jubal Battisti
All photos by Evan Namerow