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Juilliard Dance

Published: May 28, 2012
Category: review

Cedar Lake Ballet’s Strange Programming Choice

By Rachel Straus

NEW YORK — Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet opened its two-week Joyce Theater season on May 15 with a triple bill, featuring two new-ish works about unremitting struggle, performed by a cadre of fierce young dancers. In addition to their shared urban existential anguish, Hofesh Shechter’s Violet Kid (2011) and Crystal Pite’s Grace Engine (2012) both cast their dancers in darkness. Both interpolate house music’s throbbing beats. Both could have been ten minutes shorter. Both demand from the 16-member troupe a gender neutral, hard-hitting physicality in which the dancers are in near perpetual motion.

Putting the two works, which were created for Cedar Lake, on the same bill was a programming misstep, perhaps for the sake of marketing. For the choreography of London-based Shechter, 37, and Frankfurt-based Pite Shechter, 42, is very much in demand, danced by their own acclaimed companies and by other, international troupes. Put on the same program, the intensity of their respective visions nearly canceled each other out.

Shechter got his start in Batsheva Dance Company, a modern dance ensemble based in Tel Aviv.  The political volatility of Shechter’s native Israel is reflected in his compelling movement style: Think part basic training, part folk dance. Ballet-trained Pite hails from Canada and performed with William Forsythe’s Ballet Frankfurt. Her choreography contrasts ballet’s rubber-band aesthetic with the fast-twitch muscularity of break dancing. Her work is absorbing, but its physical brutality looks cinematic as opposed to Shechter’s, which feels live.

Acacia Schachte in Annonciation

In between Pite and Shechter’s works was Angelin Preljocaj’s Annonciation (1995), an eerie interpretation of the Virgin Mary’s Annunciation by Angel Gabriel. Mary experiences her impending Immaculate Conception as a biological abduction of her body. Never mind famous paintings of the scene; Preljocaj strips away all ornamental iconography. Costumed in modernist shifts, Harumi Terayama (the Virgin) and Acacia Schachte (the Angel Gabriel) dance side by side in a stark universe with a blood-red rectangular floor framed on two sides by a black bench. This is no walled garden. Only God’s penetrating light (by designer Jacques Chatelet) is grand.

The French choreographer’s spare, angular movement unfolds in a series of tableaux. In a wide-eyed trance, Terayama touches the inside of her legs and puts her fingers to her lips, as though tasting her future. Snippets of Vivaldi’s Magnificat pierce moments of silence; Stephane Roy’s electronic Crystal Music sounds like liquid matter colliding, bursting, and replicating. It’s no wonder that Annonciationvhas remained in the Cedar Lake repertory since 2008; it is powerfully strange.


Violet Kid

Shechter’s Violet Kid also traffics in religious imagery, forged by a dimly lit string trio mounted in darkness on a podium. They look like floating angels as they play Shechter’s minimalist score, which resembles diluted Bach. A disembodied voice intones: “In the first 15 seconds of a show, you already know if you like it or not.” The dancers, meanwhile, line up at the lip of the stage before embarking on a series of rhythmic, spatially compelling patterns that are ferociously executed and look spontaneous. Then there is Shechter’s percussive section of his score, which accompanies the dancers’ violent, unison bopping of their heads. At first they look like dancers at a rave, but as they repeat their motion they appear less like club kids and more like angry youth slamming their foreheads against some unseen oppressive force. If this music is supposed to evoke a prison of repetitive sounds, then the choreographer-musician has achieved his objective.

Grace Engline

Pite’s Grace Engine is the least structurally coherent work on the program. It cascades with unconnected images. An invisible force stalks a man. The identically dressed cast members throw off their business suits to become an arm-in-arm line of trudging workers. Later, individuals reach their arms out dramatically. What these silent screamers are suffering from remains a mystery; the gesture brings to mind Picasso’s Guernica. Owen Belton’s sound score tenders metallic clanking, whispering, and heavy foot falls. Though Pite’s Engine needs trimming, the Cedar Lake performers delivered it with typical unwavering commitment. The nine-year-old company is energizing the American contemporary dance scene – with young European choreographers.

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