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Jack Anderson

Cedar Lake's Glamorous Angst

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet performs "Rite" by Stijn Celis. Dancers: Acacia Scacte, Oscar Ramos (back) and Jon Bond. Photo: Paul B. Goode.

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet
Cedar Lake Theater, 547 West 26th Street, Chelsea
January 10-19, 2008 at 8 p.m., $30, $20 students and seniors
Tickets: (212) 868-4444 Saturday at 8 p.m., $25 Sunday, $38 all other performances
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, January 12, 2008

Anxiety prevails at Cedar Lake this winter. So does glamour. Both coexist quite nicely in the new triple-bill by Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet.

All three works depict people rushing in perpetual disquiet, often for undisclosed reasons. Nevertheless, despite the vague motivation, the choreography commands attention and the dancers' skill, speed, and control are remarkable, so much so that this combination of agitation and sleekness acquires its own peculiar glamour, much in the way that clever fashion designers and photographers can make scruffiness attractive.

Motion and emotion are most persuasively united in Crystal Pite's world premiere, "Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue," to music Cliff Martinez composed for the film, "Solaris." As her title suggests, Pite's ballet consists of brief frantic duets for Jubal Battisti, Jon Bond, Jason Kittelberger, Jessica Lee Keller, and Jessica Coleman Scott, who pair off in various opposite-sex and same-sex combinations suggesting states of peril, attempts to rescue people from distress, and times when distress and rescue appear strangely similar, as when two squirming men seem both to battle and to help steady each other.

In one striking episode, a woman teeters dangerously on the edge of losing her balance while a man strives to run forward to help her, yet is hampered in his exertions because the choreography makes him seem to be struggling the wrong way on a moving sidewalk.

Like Pite, Jacopo Godani, who contributed "Symptoms of Development," has worked with William Forsythe, and both share Forsythe's fondness for complex fractured classical steps danced at top speed. The agitation is unrelenting in this piece set to electronic music by Ulrich Muller and Siegfried Rossert of 48 Nord and to cryptic statements dancers recite into a microphone about such matters as the relationship of body and soul and the development of the brain; the whooshing sounds produced when a dancer waves the mike often serve as ways of commanding other dancers' movements. The turmoil is unexplained. But so, for that matter, is the angst in many contemporary ballet and modern dance pieces. And Godani's vivid dance images do suggest a society growing increasingly dehumanized as it crumbles.

Stijn Celis's "Rite" is yet another ballet to Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" (a score once considered virtually unchoreographable that has become almost inescapable), heard here in a version for two pianos. Celis has his cast of nine constantly rush in and out and shift a set of platforms about. The platforms are green and Catherine Voeffray's androgynous costumes for men and woman alike are adorned with floral motifs. So, presumably, Celis may very well have spring on his mind: judging from the action, a turbulent, yet also rather monotonous, spring for, unlike Stravinsky's score, the choreography never builds to climaxes, although its wildness is certainly attention-getting.

Despite reservations one may have about the works it presents, Cedar Lake is a valuable addition to our dance scene. Benoit-Swan Pouffer, its artistic director, is doing much to introduce local audiences to unfamiliar international choreographers (in this case, Pite from Canada, Godani from Italy, and Celis from Belgium). I, for one, am happy to have made their acquaintance, and I'm especially curious to see more ballets by Pite.

Yet Cedar Lake as an organization is much too reticent. The fact that its location in the far west of Chelsea makes it difficult to reach by public transportation is not its fault. Nevertheless, it could, and should, be a far more vibrant presence in this district of art galleries. Its headquarters include an attractive theater with a wide stage and a spacious studio. But its New York seasons are short, and its building surely could be available for a host of varied arts activities. Cedar Lake is a serious endeavor and far from seeming lost in Chelsea, it ought to be a magnet, attracting inquisitive audiences to it.

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