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Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet’s program was impressive as a whole at first glance — the famously funded company packed Jiri Kylián’s Indigo Rose, Crystal Pite‘s Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue, and Johan Inger’s Rain Dogs into a single evening. 

The three well-known choreographers all come from different countries and backgrounds, but each has choreographed for Nederlands Dans Theatre, arguably the best in contemporary dance. Since Dd contributor Alexandra recently wrote a piece on Cedar Lake’s performance of Rain Dogs, I’ll keep my response to the first two works I saw them perform, last Thursday, at the Irvine Barclay Theatre.

Kylian’s Indigo Rose, choreographed in 1998, was striking in its use of geometry and set. A single wire extended from the floor at upstage right to the grid downstage left, slicing a diagonal across the stage and creating two large triangular shapes in the space. The dance began in silence with a solo that moved across that diagonal, and the music, by Robert Ashley, began when the soloist’s forehead made contact with the wire, the rest of his body forming a smaller triangle beneath it. Soon a second male soloist entered, and later a third; a duet and trio transpired amongst these three dancers, who each wore a differently colored biketard accented with sheer trim. The movement phrases were filled with fast, intricate gestures, lofty petite allegro jumps, and pauses in which the men cracked sustained, self-possessed smiles.

Later in the piece, a white sheath of fabric was pulled across the wire in a single flourish, dividing the space into seen and unseen. Dancers entered and performed in front of the fabric, which fluttered behind them, catching light. It was hard to tell if the fabric was being manipulated behind the scenes or if the movement resulted simply from the dancer’s movements so close by. Those movements were balletic but cut with aerobics-video gestures: arms pumping from side to side, low second-position pliés, not to mention slightly pasted-on smiles. These unison phrases, while musical and technically impressive, dated the piece (the women’s corsets and dark tights added to the 90’s aesthetic). An interesting effect was achieved when dancers behind the scrim were backlit, creating a silhouette in which a woman was blown largely out of proportion. A tiny male dancer moved through her negative space. Because Cedar Lake’s dancers are all so unique and have such distinct body types, it was possible to discern who was performing, even in shadow.

The work ended with a black and white film that was projected against the upper third of the backdrop as all of the dancers remained standing still in various poses below. The short film focused on the dancers’ faces; occasionally an upper body was caught in frame, an arcing movement of a chest or an arm. The video projection utilized repetition and still shots to offer a poignant, but still quirky, portrait of the company; however, it seemed arbitrarily tacked on to the work and added to the lack of cohesion. Still, it was interesting to experience one of Kylian’s lesser known pieces, and I enjoyed his masterful manipulation of bodies and the way his navigable set framed the work.

The second piece on the program, Ten Duets on A Theme of Rescue, was more intimate. The costumes, designed by Junghyun Georgia Lee, were pedestrian, loose shirts and pants in mostly muted colors. The lighting, comprised almost solely of standing lights arranged in a semicircle, gave the work a salon feel. At times only one or two lights were lit; they dimmed and brightened throughout the piece. Occasionally a member of the cast would move one of the lights from one side of the stage to another, creating a shadow that drifted off the dancers who were moving in the space downstage.

Contrasting the very musical Indigo Rose, Pite’s choreography contained a clear sense of rhythm that worked in counterpoint to the soft, ambient soundscape selected from Cliff Martinez’s soundtrack to Solaris. The timing of the movement was deliberate, and it was occasionally punctuated by sound: a hand slapping the floor, breath as two bodies moved together, a soft little jig where a foot touched a knee. The ten duets were performed by a total of five dancers, mostly male-male or male-female. One remarkable duet between two women was combative at first, but also gave the impression that the dancers had mutually agreed on something, perhaps just to give the other space and permission to be abrasive. In this way, each duet contained a “theme of rescue,” which ranged from simply making contact to literally assisting one another to depicting unfulfilled rescue. In one vignette, a woman slowly lunged forward with her arm held out behind her. A man reached forward, but was unable to touch her hand. He sprinted in place, his legs flying desperately behind him. It was surprising that even in rescue, and especially in these intimate partnering sequences, each individual seemed quite alone.

In the program, Pite was quoted, “After creating the choreography, I searched within it for images that specifically evoked rescue. There are many of them. They exist inside the dancing like fragments of an untold narrative.” For me, these “fragments” were woven together so that they created a perfectly relatable story. As a viewer, I was able to connect the dots as each instance of rescue presented itself, sometimes all at once, other times slowly and steadily, silently connecting each one to aspects of my own narrative, acknowledging my experience as both rescuer and rescued.

Photo credits: Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet in Ten Duets on A Theme of Rescue. Photo by Sharen Bradford. Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet in Indigo Rose. Photo by Paula Lobo.

Written by Lara Wilson

Hearkening from Michigan, Lara Wilson is a dancer, choreographer, dance filmmaker, and writer. She recently moved to Southern California from New York, where she graduated summa cum laude from The Ailey School/Fordham University with a B.F.A. in Dance in 2009. While in New York, Lara’s choreography was presented locally and internationally. She is excited to be pursuing her various callings in sunny Cali, where she is truly a DIY Dancer.
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