Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet

By Rachel Straus

On Oct. 28, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, which finished up its 12-day New York season over the weekend, offered a program by three choreographers whose treatment of dancers’ bodies was harsh. In Hubbub, by 27-year-old Alexander Ekman, 15 company members stripped to their underwear and stood in a line at the lip of the stage. They drew war paint on their faces. They pounced up on small, high tables resembling pedestals, exhibiting themselves like specimens. Striking flexed muscular poses, they displayed their hard-edged bodies, cut as body builders’. Then they slammed their limbs under, over, and around their platforms with military precision, like so many unbreakable machines. I’m afraid it was supposed to be a satire, but it didn’t read that way. It looked like an ideologically driven cult going through some kind of ritual.

Ekman earned his dancing chops with Nederlands Dans Theater, whose chief choreographer at the time, Jiří Kylián, created lush, lyrical, reflective works for his dancers. In Hubbub, the dancers resemble punching bags. Toward the end (taped music by Xavier Cugat and Chopin), they even sounded like punching bags, exhaling fiercely. But the group gasp had the effect of piercing the ballet’s harsh tenor. Dancers dropped their heroic personas and muttered to each other, as though they had lost the thread of their thoughts. A duet ensued in which Harumi Terayama and Oscar Ramos performed a series of unrelated movements, which were simultaneously discussed by the two on a recorded voice over. “Take me downstage, Oscar,” said Terayama. “Ooh, I like this part,” she continued.

The commentary was pretty meaningless; consequently Terayama, who is not an empty-headed individual, came across as a dancer who doesn’t think beyond the steps. And Ekman reinforced the typical stereotype: that those who dance are vapid. Then he abruptly changed course. With Chopin’s Nocturnes, Op. 9-2. #2 in E flat, Ekman decided to demonstrate how the dancers are just like you and me. In more recorded voice overs, we learned that one of them has a crush on the other; one calls his mother every night. Unfortunately, Ekman’s last-ditch effort to humanize the dancers felt discordant, out of tune with the rest of the work’s steroid-induced mood.

Also on the program were Jo Strømgren’s Sunday, Again (2008), a company standby about a badminton match in which the players are cold and cruel to each other, and Jacopo Godani’s Unit in Reaction (2009). The latter played with the idea of mechanized force (think Power Rangers) and entanglement (think Scylla, the Greek sea monster). Godani alternated between the two movement qualities to create a composite vision of six prowling Jeckl and Hyde dancers (one minute they’re languid, they next they lash their limbs like vampires hungry for blood). Dressed in unisex, dark, mesh wrestler suits and lit in near darkness (both care of Godani), the brooding, bass-driven, metallic music (by Ulrich Müller and Siegfried Rössert of “48Nord”) further heightened the apocalyptic mood.

What was life giving was the dancers. They gave flight to choreographers’ ideas. They embodied diverse movement styles. They approached all of the material passionately. It would be nice to see them portrayed as caring. Watching them as defensive line backers, mean badminton partners, and humorlous denizens of the dead gets—all in one sitting—was hard on the eyes.

In choosing the next round of  dances, Cedar Lake’s artistic director might heed Shakespeare’s words, “Farewell, fair cruelty.” The bard knew how to leaven cruelty with a little love and tenderness.















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