#dancecritique: this is how you do it

I appreciate the critique below because even when discussing a piece’s shortcomings, Talijancic still describes the movement, music/sound, set – the entire piece.  In recent dance writing (especially the NYT), I’m finding less attention given to the movement itself and more space devoted to visceral attacks on ability and craft.  Certainly, choreographic, aesthetic, and artistic craft are hugely significant but the preference given to cutting missteps in artistic development without giving a full picture of a work becomes an opinion piece rather than dance review.

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet hits (and then misses) at The Joyce
Ivan Talijancic on 14th May 2013

For the occasion of what I believe has become Cedar Lake’s annual tradition of showcasing work at the Joyce Theater, this contemporary ballet troupe has assembled an impressive trio of guest choreographers – Nederlands Dans Theater’s former chief Jiří Kylián, Crystal Pite and Andonis Foniadakis. Personally, I was curious to follow up on my recent experiences with NDT and Kidd Pivot (Pite’s company), whose works were on view earlier on in the Joyce’s current season.

Though the first two were not new choreographies, I was glad to observe that they admirably withstood the test of time. For one, Kylián’s Indigo Rose provides incontrovertible proof of all things that position NDT on the forefront of the contemporary ballet – a vigorous reinvention of the classical form, a refreshingly irreverent use of bodies, and an incisive, integrated use of the visual design – all of which were likewise strongly showcased during NDT’s New York engagement earlier this spring. Indigo Rose was sectioned off in four segments, alternately scored with dissonant electronica and, in contrast, some peaceful Renaissance music. One enters this world with an image of the stage sparsely but powerfully interrupted by a single cord that diagonally slashes the proscenium, and dancers engaged in agile, minutely and exquisitely lightning-fast moves, executed to an intensely syncopated music that brought to mind a palpitating heartbeat of a New Yorker OD’ing on caffeine.

The urban buzz gives way to classical restraint – concurrent duets centered around tightly corseted women engaged in sinuous undulation with their partners. But the calm is not lasting – soon, the space gets dramatically dissected down the middle by a sail-like curtain sliding down the diagonal cord, and giving way to another outburst of frenetic dancing (and some mischievous interaction with shadow-puppets produced by backlight cast on the translucent “sail”). The sense I was getting of the quicksand existence of dancers all along is reaffirmed in the final section, handsomely set to Bach, which has a rehearsal feel to it – with the entire cast engaged in creating precise, isolated forms counterpointed with stop-motion animated footage of dancers’ faces, projected above the stage – poignantly concluding with an extended suspension of time, a stillness, a freeze-frame, if we wanted to talk about it in cinematic terms.

Speaking of cinema – it must have been on Crystal Pite’s mind a whole lot while making Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue. For one, this short (but powerful) work is entirely set to the music taken from the motion picture soundtrack of Solaris (the Soderbergh remake, to be precise, not Tarkovsky’s original). The setting for the Duets is reminiscent of a dusty, abandoned soundstage devoid of scenery, populated only by a forest of moveable lighting stands. Therein, Pite throws her cast – two at a time, as the title suggests – into the spotlight and engages them in delicate choreographic ruminations. Although Pite’s work ostensibly deals with abstractions of larger themes, her theatricality (with a touch of pantomime) imbues the work with just enough narrative to keep my mind engaged in miniature stories of intimate connections, abandonment and, I would argue, the possibility of rescue. The intelligence of this piece lies within the (intentional) incompleteness, the unfulfilled potential offered by most of the vignettes, keeping the viewer on the edge. (For instance, in one moment I wonder if choosing to accompany someone drowning in quicksand is a form of rescue.) In spite of the work’s stark setting, the expansiveness of the sound score and Pite’s eloquent montage of the stage pictures endow the piece with a vast cinematic feel and emotional depth that makes the work remarkably fulfilling to experience.

Surprisingly, the evening’s weakest link turned out to be its final piece, the world première of Antonis Foniadakis’ Horizons. To be fair, there was plenty of impressive athleticism on display on the part of Cedar Lake’s good-looking and able-bodied company of dancers and their Star Trek-y leotards were quite amusing. I was likewise mesmerized by the deliciously cacophonous sound (originally created by Julien Tarride) that crashed into me like waves: it made me think of a ghostly symphonic orchestra – minus a conductor – where much of the maelstrom was caused by the fact that not all the musicians chose to show up at the same time, including a lone opera singer who wandered in later in the game. I did appreciate watching the puzzling array of body parts which seemingly had minds of their own, with only the briefest moments of regaining control, before being taken over by some invisible force – the bodies seemed possessed with this disjointed movement, which supported the spectral quality of the soundscape. In spite of being muddled by a vocal track (in my estimation unnecessary), reminiscent of a new-agey self-help relaxation tape, up until this point Horizons amounted to a somewhat coherent whole.

However, as the piece progressed into its final two sections, with the ensemble gyrating to Afropop-sounding music on a small red carpet, then languidly undulating like seaweed in silhouette, finally giving way to a lone pair engaged in Rite of Spring-y couplings while being doused with gallons of water from the rafters, the work appeared to derail so far off track, as if the choreographer himself was struggling to make sense of the plentiful but uneven array of material produced on the stage. That being the case, it was unfortunate that instead of ending with a bang, the company chose to end the evening with an emphasis on a new work that didn’t quite make the mark.

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