Though Rain Dogs, choreographed by Johan Inger, was a new repertory work for Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, it was not new to the Inger, who had created it originally for Ballet Basil in 2011. But, during a mere five day rehearsal process Inger was inspired by Cedar Lake and modified the dance to showcase the personalities of the individuals in the company.
As a way into this work, though not mentioned as an an inspiration for the title in the program, the lyrics to the song “Rain Dogs” by Tom Waits, evoke an environment very similar to the one on stage:
Inside a broken clock
Splashing the wine
With all the Rain Dogs
Taxi, we’d rather walk.
Huddle a doorway with the Rain Dogs
For i am a Rain Dog, too.
Oh, how we danced and we swallowed the night
For it was all ripe for dreamin
Oh, how we danced away
All of the lights
We’ve always been out of our minds.
The Rum pours strong and thin
Beat out the dustman
With the Rain Dogs
Aboard a shipwreck train
Give my umbrella to the Rain Dogs
For I am a Rain Dog, too.
Oh, how we danced with the
Rose of Tralee
Her long hair black as a raven
Oh, how we danced and you
Whispered to me
You’ll never be going back home,
You’ll never be going back home.
The dance work began with a solo by Billy Bell, portraying an analytical and dreamy elderly man in front of a closed curtain. Bits of his inner dialogue, as he got ready to go outside, was set to jazz music airing from a radio on stage. When the curtain opened, a vertical line of dancers with jazz hands in the air was revealed. In a fusion of contemporary and swing dance movement vocabularies, they initiated deep torso contractions and fast footwork that wove in and out of the line. Bell emerged from the corner of the stage to begin a phrase in unison which combined personal gestures with jazz walks and fouettes.
Genders were separated into two vertical lines; the women teased their male counterparts with attitudes, extensions and by flapping the skirt section of their dress while the men crawled forward and back as though they were intimidated by their opponents. The celebratory jazzy mood and swing dance influences were reminiscent of an urban environment in the early 20th century. Nighttime and snow fell down upon the stage. A love triangle began to soul music. The performers constantly switched relationships; one person performing an emotional solo while the two others danced together. In one version, two women leaned comfortably into one another suggesting they were better off together and the man’s desire for the woman in red, which prompted him to lie on top of her, was denied as she kept sliding away from him. Eventually the young man was left alone and his anger translated into dramatic and violent extensions of his limbs that were controlled down to the finger tips. It was unusual and refreshing to see the women overpowering the man in such a love triangle.
Several other heterosexual duets weave alternated, involving violent pushes to the ground and disagreeable gestures in slow motion, to the sounds of a jazz song in which the main chorus states that we’re all “just gonna be dead in the ground.” They entered and exited dramatically and unexpectedly, playing with my emotions along the way. A blue mood descended upon the stage and performers.
After a black out, a spotlight struck a life size toy poodle. A new character introduced himself as Frank and recalled some exaggerated absurdities faced in his urban life. Laughter rang out in response to this hilarious surprise monologue.
Following Frank’s monologue, a woman dropped into floor work that showcased an inner struggle as she moaned and grunted to the sound of light clapping in the background. A clump of hunched-over performers emerged from upstage, clapping with their eyes fixed to the ground, and walked right over the soloist, forcing her to crawl in between their legs. By far one of the strongest moments in the entire show, this particular image struck me on a personal level because of the amoral crowd mentality I experience daily on the streets and in the subways of NYC. And as a woman, it was even more poignant for me that this scene depicted a woman beneath a crowd of mostly men. The power structures of reality were magnified further as the clapping sounds of the standing group dictated her movements on the ground.
Eventually she joined them in a unison phrase of clapping, punching the air while leaning backward in a deep hinge, and turning around. Throughout the repetition of this phrase dancers ran offstage only to return the group in their undergarments, and so on, again, coming back to wear a performer of the opposite gender’s previous outfit. By the last version of the phrase all the women were dressed in suits and the men in dresses, except for last dancer who was caught in his boxers.
From the crossdressing clump, a woman performed sharp gestures as though she were dancing alone, while her male counterpart in a dress made contact with her: gently supporting her, lying in between her legs. Relating reductively to their outfits, the female performer wearing the suit was rigid while the young boy in a flower print dress remained soft in character. That aside, Inger managed to tell the story of the cold-hearted city with a dark humor, gorgeous dancing, and a spectacular, moody setting that evoked nostalgia for a simpler urban era.