Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet Mixed Bill: Violet Kid, Tuplet, Grace Engine

Choreography by Hofesh Shechter, Alexander Ekman, Crystal Pite
Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet
Sadler’s Wells

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet
Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet

Sixteen superlative dancers, clever choreography from Hofesh Shechter, Alexander Ekman, and Crystal Pite—why were there empty seats in the auditorium? Too few prepared to take a chance on this New York based company founded in 2003?

An unknown entity? Not any more. Lucky the young dance students in the audience. What an education for them; what a great London debut for Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. Dynamic abstract works with a weight of meaning, innovative soundscapes, and humour, but above all extraordinarily talented dancers. They have to be seen. To be believed. They are incredible.

Hofesh Shechter, whom the dance world already knows and loves, created Violet Kid in 2011 for them. His signature style and vocabulary is immediately recognizable, as is his psychology. Still exorcising his demons, he ‘examines man’s struggle for harmony within a complex and often horrifying universe’. Is this a misprint—should it be violent kid?

Again set to his own score, heavy percussive beat, plaintive Middle-Eastern strings, and his own recorded voiceover, Shechter also has a hand in the smoky lighting and the costume design. It is his vision.

Under dusky spots and against castle walls made of shadowy light hearts beat, fists raise to heaven, fingers point, feet stamp and pound, huddled tribes group and regroup, form circles, run urgently. Supple loose bodies, young people in everyday casual clothes behave in erratic fashion, the internal is made external.

All stand in a line in tree pose balance, then twist into a cross-legged seated dissolve on the floor, and crawl away. Blackout, reform and reconfigure. Go figure… A cacophony of crossed wires: is this life, the individual as part of the collective, or are they all possessed?

First impressions count, he says. He’s blown it then, for a ‘good kid is a quiet kid’. ‘Do I talk too much?’ Does he protest too much? Not for me. His stream of consciousness speaks volumes to me. Like Wayne McGregor, Shechter has a distinctive vocabulary taken from his own body. Fourteen dancers amplify its volume.

Alexander Ekman’s 2012 Tuplet for six dancers is as succinct (only eighteen minutes long) as Shechter’s is wordy, but not so different in concept. What Ekman is addressing is rhythm and beat. What is rhythm, a voice asks. It is time, clapping, walking, raindrops falling, ‘your neighbour having sex next door’… Voice is rhythm. A video prepares us: lips speak silently, fingers sign.

Against a white-lit background a solo dancer orchestrates his body, hips articulating, hands flicking, responding to his call. Six dancers in black stand on white square mats. To the sound of beat-boxy voices they throw body shapes and semaphore moves that are witty, willful, controlled, extreme. And vital.

Spoken names are signed in explosive calligraphic convulsions of the body, in contrametric visual rhythm to the slowed down silent video of 1950s musicians playing behind them. It’s like patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time. Matthew Rich is simple to do. Rich, fingers move, rich, rich. Jonathan Bond is easy: Bond is a ricocheting body blow (get it?). But try Navarra Novy-Williams, or Joaquim de Santana, Joseph Kudra, Ebony Williams.

In short snappy sections, Mikael Karlsson’s electronic score in tune with the dancers’ own rhythmic impulses, their bodies the percussion, flies them to the moon and back. It reminds me of trying, as a dance student, to choreograph a piece to the spoken word, to Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky. Rhythm is everywhere. Point made.

Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite makes a similar point in her long-winded 2012 Grace Engine. Amplified footsteps keeping time with the dancer’s feet, a dark night, an urban scenario… Two lines of black-suited dancers confront each other—gangs of New York or chess pieces?

Silences, rhythmic machine noises, blinding lights... The body as machine, each one a cog in the larger scheme… Metal on metal. Duets, Ebony Williams’s solo of extreme contortions and extensions, phalanxes of workers... Chris Marker, Matrix sci-fi, film noir, special effects, freeze frames, and the art of foley. Sound, time and motion.

An interesting well-balanced bill, three UK premières, all of a thematic piece, which must be credited to the company’s French artistic director (since 2005), Benoit-Swan Pouffer, his aim to graft a European sensibility on to the New York contemporary dance scene. Fortunate in his secure funding from Nancy Laurie, Pouffer is building quite a reputation for innovation, creative excellence, and intelligent commissioning.

Reviewer: Vera Liber