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Jack Anderson

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet

Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue at 19th Street, Chelsea
May 15-27,2012
Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., Sunday at 3 p. m.
(212)242-0800, www.joyce.org. $10-$49
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, May 27, 2012

Since its founding in 2003, Cedar Lake has made a valuable contribution to the dance scene by introducing New Yorkers to ballets by worthy, but unfamiliar and mostly foreign, choreographers. But oh the mysteries of dance programming. It was fortunate that the company presented a Program B as well as a Program A, for whereas Program B was invigorating, Program A was heavy going.

Two of its three offerings were so much alike that, though by different choreographers, they could have been parts of a single long ballet. Yet presenting them together, far from making their similarities more meaningful, only increased the evening’s monotony. Both "Violet Kid," choreographed and composed by the British-based Hofesh Shechter, and "Grace Engine," by Crystal Pite, of Vancouver, to music by Owen Belton, were glum affairs in which drably clad dancers rushed about battling both unseen forces and one another to accompaniments that included roaring street noises. Filled with sound and fury, but signifying heaven only knows what, these were t he sort of ballets that give existential anguish a bad name as a choreographic theme.

Between them came the season’s only familiar work, Angelin Preljocaj’s "Annonciation," which remains an ingenious duet depicting Mary’s visitation by an Angel who announces that she will bear the Infant Jesus. Mary’s reactions range from astonishment and disbelief to final acceptance, and the ballet gains a measure of ambiguity by the fact that both Mary (Harumi Terayama) and the Angel (Acacia Schachte) are played by women. Although, theologically, angels are sexless beings, making this encounter a meeting between two women in the flesh provides the ballet with lesbian implications audiences are free to interpret or ignore as they wish.

And then there was the triple-bill of Program B: something else entirely. Yet at first it seemed to promise only more of the same. Regina van Berkel’s "Simply Marvel," the opening work, began with solemn dancers responding to dissonant piano chords by Theo Verbey. But when this granitic music gave way to cascades of virtuoso violin variations by Paganini, the Dutch choreographer made her dancers cut loose, constantly twisting themselves and one another into convoluted positions and entanglements. The result was perpetual squirming, and just as during his lifetime it was rumored that Paganini was possessed by the devil, so the dancers appeared to be possessed by his devilish music.

Two Swedish choreographers also kept dancers amusingly busy. Like "Simply Marvel," Alexander Ekman’s "Tuplet" got off to an unpromising start. When spectators returned to their seats after intermission, they beheld the curtain open, stagehands fussing with equipment, and a dancer warming up. We’ve all seen this sort of stuff too many times before: supposedly informal goings-on that merely look contrived. Moreover, "Tuplet" was a work in which dancers used their bodies as percussion instruments. And we’ve seen that before, as well.

But Ekman breathed vitality into these clichés. His six dancers pounded the floor and their bodies, slapped themselves rhythmically, and when their names were recited they reacted to the plosives and fricatives in them as if dodging bursts of verbal artillery. And these sounds were incorporated into the accompanying score by Mikael Karlsson and Victor Feldman. Ekman gave rhythmic life to all existence.

Jo Stromgren celebrated nonsense in "Necessity, Again," in which passages of highly emotional music by Charles Aznavour alternated with not always comprehensible quotations from a lecture on necessity by Jacques Derrida, the high priest of French Deconstruction theory. Here was a dance infested with words. The dancers hopped like witches casting spells, scattered loose pages with words on them, pulled in a clothesline with words pinned to it, pelted one another with rolled-up bits of paper like spitballs, and stripped to their underwear. By the end of the piece they were playing jump-rope with the clothesline. Who knew why? Who cared? Stromgren’s dancers looked like they were having fun. And I had fun watching them.

The whole evening was fun. Conceivably, however, sobsersided observers might have dismissed it as frivolous and, instead, extolled the indisputably serious Program A. Or, to satisfy everyone, a shrewd organizer might have mixed serious and frivolous efforts together for an evening’s fare. But no, this didn’t happen. Oh, the mysteries of program planning.

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