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Ecstatic, tribal contemporary dance

Anne Thompson: Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet

Nickemil Concepcion, Guillaume Quéau, Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue, Crystal Pite, Cedar Lake Dance Company Nickemil Concepcion, Guillaume Quéau, Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue, Crystal Pite, Cedar Lake Dance Company
photo Tony Lewis
The featured dance company at this year’s Adelaide Festival was Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, a New York City-based company of exceptional, physically and culturally diverse dancers. The artistic director, Alexandria Damiani, invites selected choreographers to develop a new work on and with the dancers. This is common practice in ballet companies where a shared dance language and process of embodiment is assumed to exist even though classical dance training is culturally specific and there are a number of differing classical styles.

For many years the model for contemporary dance companies has been informed by the modern dance tradition in which a company forms to explore, embody and present the physical and artistic concerns of a choreographer. This is the dominant model in Australia. Cedar Lake’s Mixed Rep program however features works by Ji?í Kylián, ex-Nederlans Dance Theater, Crystal Pite, Associate Artist with NDT and Sadlers Wells Theatre, and Hofesh Shechter, Associate Artist with SWT, former dancer with Batsheva Dance Company. The second program features the choreography of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui from a contemporary dance tradition that includes Les ballets C de la B, Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, Meg Stuart and Wim Vandekeybus.

Mixed Rep

Ji?í Kylián’s Indigo Rose is described as a “carefully constructed celebration of youth.” We see Kylián’s trademarks: quirky humour, neoclassicism tempered by folk and jazz signature moves, physical exuberance, a striking abstract design dominating the space (in this case a diagonal line of light cutting through the space that transforms into a triangular silk sail) and discrete episodes of contrasting dance events underlined by changes in musical accompaniment—a travelling trio, two classical duets, a solo etc. In its sequential studies of ‘youth,’ Indigo Rose also features shadow play and film projection of the dancers in close-up.

Crystal Pite’s Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue, draws on the gravity-bound traditions informing contemporary dance—Graham technique, release technique, contact work—and the theatrical language of human gesture and physical interaction used in dance theatre. Dancers meet, interact and part, backlit by four film lights revealed at the end to be part of a semi-circle of lights on stands. The duets never settle into recognisable narratives of rescue but exist as intimate, rhythmically propelled dramas of weight, flow and touch. This made them resonant but not literal enactments of the theme. I was struck researching the piece that the accompanying score by Cliff Martinez was from Steven Soderbergh’s 2002 remake of the iconic 1972 Tarkovsky film, Solaris, based in turn on the 1961 Polish science fiction novel by Stanislaw Lem. For those who don’t know, the film tells the story of a psychologist/scientist who travels to a space station orbiting a planet to rescue the men there who have lapsed into emotional crises when the planet probes their minds. Present reality and memory merge for the protagonist as the rescue mission becomes an attempted rescue of self from the past, a drama of grief and partial recovery. This play with the notion of ‘rescue’ speaks to the openness of interpretation clearly desired by Pite in shaping this dance.
Ebony Williams, Nickemil Concepcion, Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue, Crystal Pite, Cedar Lake Dance Company Ebony Williams, Nickemil Concepcion, Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue, Crystal Pite, Cedar Lake Dance Company
photo Tony Lewis

Violet Kid

Across the two programs Hofesh Shechter’s Violet Kid was the stand-out work. Israeli-born Shechter has developed his own dance vision from his training with Batsheva Dance Company. The training developed by artistic director Ohad Naharin is unique. “There are many things in it: the importance of yielding and collapse, of delicacy, connecting effort to pleasure, working without mirrors, learning to listen to your body before telling it what to do” (, 8 March).

Violet Kid is an eloquent, complex interplay of social movement and dance with roots in Israeli folk dance, political demonstrations, street gang choreography, rave parties, soccer players’ post-game embraces, victory laps and individual gestural declarations—like the spontaneous gestures of a person listening, eyes closed, to an iPod, the distressed scratching of the agitated drug addict and the strange positions taken by people lost in thought. Movement occurs in rhythmic riffs that establish, build and transform. Sometimes the flow of movement just stops. Other times different riffs play off each other. Shechter’s own score of strings and drumming drives the dancing on. This is ecstatic, tribal contemporary dance. The dancers’ bodies integrate in response to image and rhythm in the way people’s bodies do dancing at music festivals—gloriously idiosyncratic and deeply interpersonally connected. I still carry this dancing in my body.

Orbo Novo

The second program featured a single work, Orbo Novo by Flemish-Moroccan Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. The term Orbo Novo (New World) was used by Spanish historian Pietro Martire d’Anghiera to describe North America in 1493. The other text informing the piece is neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor’s My Stroke of Insight, an uncanny recollection of suffering a stroke. In an early section the dancers quote or mouth passages from this text. The defining theme was the experience of a radical severance of connections in the brain/body and the strange pleasure of that dissolution, hence an encountering of a ‘new world’ and dissolution of borders of a different sort. The texts, the set of folding screens of latticed reddish-brown metal and the costumes establish the concerns of the work. Isabelle Lhoas’ costumes, suggestive of American frontier clothing, include long skirts for the women and vests and tailored pants for the men. The screens are wheeled about by the performers and used to create walls, rooms, cages, fences and mazes to be climbed, hung off or physically penetrated.

In keeping with the conceptual nature of Orbo Novo the piece unfolds as episodes/explorations of the central notion. Two dancers meet and physically entwine, reaching through the lattice structure—one inside, one outside—until an attempt to completely cross through is thwarted and they separate. A dancer falls down the lattice structure, hanging suspended and then slipping and sliding down, a study of balance and instability. Sequences of throwing the body off balance through arching, whirling and spiralling recur. Rows of dancers establish waves of dance, an ocean of movement. Men scrabble on all fours holding onto and pushing away from each other. Later the dancers become caged primates—male dancers toy with the stiff, doll-like bodies of female dancers, pushed and nudged askew. The piece concludes with the dancers finding extraordinary ways to slither and slide through the lattice and walk off. Often there was too much definition of concept, image and dancing and at other times not enough, as the work veered wildly between abstraction and theatricality—dancer as individual, body, cell, doll, primate and settler. This veering was unsettling, maybe intentionally so.

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, Mixed Rep, Orbo Novo, Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, 6-8 March

RealTime issue #126 April-May 2015 pg. 13

© Anne Thompson; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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