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Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman’s Tuplet for the Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet was the most striking piece of the company’s second week at the Joyce Theater.

To satisfy my own curiosity, I looked up the definition of tuplet, but the details were beyond my understanding of music. However, the piece required no explanation because it was visibly and audibly about rhythm. The six dancers interacted seamlessly with the soundscape, making the connections between their movements and the sounds creative and engaging.

"Simply Marvel" by Regina van Berkel Photo: Julieta Cervantes

It gained momentum after its opening with a wonderful solo performed by Jon Bond. Only his outline could be seen against the brightly-lit backdrop and he moved in perfect synchronization with a recording of his own noises, the sort of sounds a dancer might normally make only in his head to remember sequences and tempi of movements. These sounds are significant in that they mark not only the tempo of the movement, but the quality and texture as well. Following the solo, dancers lined up on white squares placed downstage and went through a series of extremely precise fragments of phrases interspersed with blackouts cued by a voice saying, “black.” They also performed movements that corresponded to recordings of their voices saying their names. It would be interesting to see another cast perform, as the arrangement of names would have looked and sounded quite different, allowing a new dance to emerge every performance.

At the very beginning and end of the piece, projectors were wheeled onto the performance space, adding an extra visual element. This was probably the weakest component of the piece, but it did not detract from the dancing or sound.

Tuplet highlighted irregular rhythms in names, conversations, and other everyday vocalizations. The audience was totally engaged, and the dancers appeared to enjoy exploring their own soundtrack through movement. Afterwards, a woman in my row said, “It was more theater than dance.” Generally, I associate theater with text—a more consistent use of words, though not necessarily to tell a story or create sense or meaning. Tuplet was full of movement, and I wondered what it would have needed to make it more dance than theater for that audience member. Many people don’t expect text or vocalizations of any kind in dance, so perhaps the mere presence of speech likened the piece to theater for some of the audience.

Necessity, Again by Norwegian choreographer Jo Strømgren employed more text than Tuplet. The dancers moved to music by Charles Aznavour, and interacted and reacted in other ways when a recording of text by Jacques Derrida played. I worried the piece would rub me the wrong way when I read Mr. Strømgren’s program note:

“The necessity to formulate everything in words, even the theme of necessity itself, is possibly a disease of our time…This piece is an homage to the free space between the words – to the moments when we just want to be emotional and not rational.”

A disease of our time? What does this mean? It seems simplistic to associate words with rationality, and movement with emotion. And for me, the “dry intellectual text” was fascinatingly convoluted and allowed a lot more “free space” than the dancing did. The choreography offered nothing new—it was beautiful dancing to pretty music, and there was an abundance of typical male/female partnering roles. Three shirtless men danced with a woman lying on a table; a man repeatedly thrust his pelvis at a woman, who attempted to retreat behind a table, only to be found again. I think this was supposed to be funny, but it was a poor choice.

"Necessity, Again" by Jo Strømgren Photo: Julieta Cervantes

Conventional partnering also pervaded Regina van Berkel’s Simply Marvel. I thought the set elements, what looked like spirals of white paper hanging from the ceiling, were beautiful, as was the music. My dissatisfaction with the piece arose from a lack of interesting relations between the dancers, the music, and the set. The piece began with a solo, and then a variety of groups and couples danced together at different times. Sometimes the women danced together while the men danced together, and there was at least one pas de deux between a man and a woman. I’m fine with a certain amount of arbitrariness, but Simply Marvel was lacking in clarity and the movement vocabulary wasn’t interesting enough to support a piece that had little content.

It was also difficult to see a relationship between the music and the choreography, aside from the dancers smiling halfway through, as the music became livelier. Just about everything felt extraneous, including the costumes. I also found the pointe work of the three female dancers to be out of place. They didn’t look entirely at ease, and again, it didn’t add anything to the dance. I know that they are called Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, but I’m not convinced that pointe work should have a place in the company’s repertory. Pointe shoes seem to lead to a division of labor between the men and women that is definitely not contemporary. The pointe work here destabilized the women a bit and it wasn’t used to experiment with movement or contribute to any aesthetic end.

Regardless, Cedar Lake plays a significant role in the New York dance scene–they take risks in showcasing work of avant-garde choreographers, and their wonderful dancers are always engaging to watch.

Written by Rebecca Hadley

Rebecca Hadley was born in Ontario, California, and began taking ballet lessons at a small studio at the age of seven. She continued dancing during high school at the wonderful Village Dance Arts in Claremont, CA and majored in dance at Barnard College. She is excited to learn more about dance and other art forms through the DIYdancer community and through continued involvement with the various dance communities in New York.