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Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet at the Joyce: Program A

May 31, 2012

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet performs “Violet Kid” by Hofesh Schecter. Photo: Julieta Cervantes

The word ballet in Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet is a bit of a misnomer; there are no tutus, no Prince Charming and very little point work (at last in the 3 pieces I saw). You will not find La Bayadère, Swan Lake or Coppélia in its repertory. You not see thirty-two Fouettés and a ballerina gracefully lifted while holding an arabesque. But what you will see may make you look at ballet in a new light and perhaps even your perspective of what is dance.

There is so much about Sunday’s performance that should not work. The music was loud and industrial. The lighting is all over the place, choreographers, lighting designers or a combination of both utilized the light at odd angles, sometimes its to bright, sometimes its shining right into your eyes and a there is whole lot of blackouts, just absolute darkness. The choreography is not traditional and absolutely not what you would expect with a company that has ballet in its name, no matter that it’s prefaced by the word contemporary. But it does work, and it works BRILLIANTLY!

Hofesh Schechter’s The Violet Kid is a work filled with contradiction, angst, anticipation and kineticism, a work that has a feel of current day trends, a youthful observation of society and the struggle with one’s identity. Mr. Schecter, who created both the choreography and the music, explores an environment that is mixed with fear and uncertainty and where humanity is challenged and tested. Whether individually or as a group it is about seeking answers about how to survive the anxiety that sometimes overwhelms our existence.

The music is heard while the audience is still in the dark, it its loud, pulsing and you can feel it in your bones. The lights go up and fourteen dancers are lined up at the edge of the stage, the voice of Israeli-born Mr. Schecter saying “Do I talk too much? Maybe if I didn’t talk too much I’d have more friends. I need to simplify things”. One dancer kneels and another stands over him while holding his hand as if a gun pointed at his head.

In The Violet Kid, Mr. Schecter does many things but “simplify things” is not one of them. We hear him Mr. Schecter say “A good kid is a quiet kid” but there is nothing quiet in the work. Many times the dancers focus seems introspective, it’s as if they had been scolded or reprimanded and seeking the answers to why.

Three musicians, Ramon de Bruyn (double bass), Mairi Dorman-Phaneuf (cello), and Tawnya Popoff (viola), are suspended above the stage, it is smoky and dimly lit, with black outs they appear and then are gone only to reappear again..

Both the music and movement of The Violet Kid gets in your body, you can feel it. There is a sense of anticipation, of what you’re not sure but at times I found myself holding my breath.

Repeatedly the dancers walk in a row towards the back of the stage doing a series of upper body movements, giving the impression that the weight of the world on their shoulders is just too much to bear and they have just given up, a moment of surrender. But they never do and work as a group to express a sense of victory, but a victory that has cost them dearly.

Jon Bond grabs you and takes you on his journey throughout The Violet Kid. He moves with a smooth, sensual prowess and a confident bravado.  Ebony Williams is a force to be reckoned with. Her performance in The Violet Kid is strong and sure, a take no prisoners approach. She is in your face and does not apologize for it. Oscar Ramos commands the eye whenever he is on stage, for he dances with such strength, such smoothness and such sexy confidence he cannot be missed. Matthew Rich takes his solos and makes them an unforgettable experience for he can whip out turns like nobody business.

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet performs “Violet Kid” by Hofesh Schecter. Photo: Julieta Cervantes

If you missed The Violet Kid you missed one of the most exciting and remarkable performances seen at the Joyce in a while!

I am a big fan of Angelin Preljocaj; his Blanche-Neige (Snow White) is genius! But Mr. Preljocaj’s Annonciation created in 1995 for two dancers, I did not care for. The dancing by Navarra Novy-Williams and Vânia Doutel Vaz was superlative. I just found the choreography slow, often dragging, but the person I went with found it fascinating. To me there is something missing in the piece, it lacks a unifying thread that could tie the work together in more cohesive manner.

Crystal Pite’s Grace Engine, which premiered this year in Lyon, France, is simply a narrative, flashes of life brought forth and seen for an instant or two then replaced with another scene much like a director patches scenes together to create a film. It’s daring, bold, exciting and alive. Ms. Pite sees the “human experience is a series of moments along a timeline”. She stretches and rearranges that timeline allowing the viewer to see episodic dissections of reality. It is not a linear work, but flows, sometimes forcible, from one section to another leaving you to assemble them as one would a jig-saw puzzle.

Jon Bond is seen walking on stage, we hear his footsteps amplified, he looks over his shoulder and we see, vaguely in the background a figure watching him. There is something a bit film-noir in this piece, a vague nod to Alfred Hitchcock and the black and white detective dramas of the 1940’s.

In the background you hear the sounds of the city, trains and traffic. Jim French’s lighting creates a world that is dark and stark, a world that blinks off and on like a defective light bulb. Mr. Bond struggles to survive, to find his place and determine his identity in such an environment.

The dancers explode into this piece. They turn the work upside-down, examining, exploring and defining, all in a continued state of controlled mania. As a person with ADD, my thoughts never wandered once during the work, and that is a very strong statement which you can only grasp if you’re ADD yourself.

Founded in 2003 by Nancy Laurie, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet has distinguished itself through both its exceptionally talented corps of sixteen dancers and its concurrent emphasis on acquiring and commissioning new works by the world’s most sought-after choreographers. Upcoming works for 2012-13 include Indigo Rose by Jiří Kylián and new works by Julie Bour and Andonis Foniadakis.

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