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Jack Anderson

Anxiety Returns to Cedar Lake

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet
547 West 26th Street, Chelsea
January 8-18, 2009
Evenings at 8 p.m.; $40
Tickets: (212) 868-4444 or www.cedarlakedance.com
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, January 12, 2009
Jason Kittelberger and Jubal Battisti in Crystal Pite's "Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue" by Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. Photo by Paul B. Goode.

No matter how many dancers were on stage in the works presented by Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, the space was always crowded: not with people, but with spirits of anxiety which, though invisible, made their presences deeply felt. Cedar Lake productions are haunted by anxiety. It dominated the company's offerings last winter. And now we have another program of great anxiety, but little variety.

The most impressive anxiety came in a revival of "Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue,"Crystal Pite's success from last season to a score by Cliff Martinez. Once again, this Canadian choreographer sent dancers rushing frantically through scenes in which enigmatic little dramas seemed ready to crystallize, only to melt away as mysteriously as they arose, all of which made the ballet's title ambiguous, for it was not always possible to tell whether the distressed couples were rescuing, or further imperiling, one another.

Jon Bond and Acacia Schachte in "memory/measure" (lower case) by Luca Veggetti. Photo by Julieta Cervantes

The Italian-born Luca Veggetti clearly mapped out an anxious space in his new "memory/measure." Everything in this production, which he also designed, occurred on a little platform covered with a white floorcloth in an otherwise dark realm. His costumes for Jubal Battisti, Jon Bond, Soojin Choi, and Acacia Schachte were also dark; so, unsurprisingly, was the tone of his ballet. Although Paolo Aralla's electronic score often thudded, the dancers moved through the din with unflappable coolness. Even when close together, emotional distance appeared to separate them. And Veggetti made his small platform sometimes appear to be a vast space by keeping dancers close to its edges while center stage gleamed white and empty. This mysterious sense of remoteness was intensified by an almost inaudible voice reciting what sounded like whispered stage directions. Veggetti might have been choreographically recalling events far away and long ago. Why he had Schachte move en pointe, while Choi did not was another mystery. The ballet had a chilly visual beauty, yet grew so emotionally frigid that I gradually lost interest in it.

"frame of view" (lower case) by Didy Veldman. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

In contrast to Veggetti's austerities there was the kinetic clutter of another premiere, Didy Veldman's "frame of view," to a recorded potpourri. Miriam Buether's setting showed the interior of a house, symbolized by three doors and poles outlining walls. Nine inexplicably worried people kept popping in and out on unexplained errands. It was never possible to tell if friend or foe lurked, either in the room or outside its doors. The almost exaggerated solemnity of the scamperings through the doors made several scenes unexpectedly resemble farce. And Veldman created some deliberately bizarre comic effects, as when a disembodied hand reached through a mail slot in an ambiguous attempt either to caress or to manhandle a woman inside the room.

It was heartening to know that this Dutch choreographer was aware of the unexpectedly comic possibilities of her ballet's fraught situations. Cedar Lake tends to be a resolutely sobersided company. Yet anxiety and solemnity, much favored there, are only part of the human condition, and it can be argued that choreographers everywhere turn too easily to solemnity: they need only have people look tense or miserable and they will have automatically created a portentous effect. But whether such surface impressions also possess deeper significance is another matter.

Long ago, Doris Humphrey, certainly never a frivolous choreographer, complained of too much vague agonizing in the dance of her time. She could still say that now.

The Cedar Lake dancers are altogether admirable. Benoit-Swan Pouffer, their artistic director, and his teaching staff have trained them to move with raw power, technical expertise and, when necessary, a fierce and sometimes glowering stage presence. They can do a lot. And, because they can, they should have opportunities to do many more kinds of things.


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