|Violet Kid by Hofesh Schechter. Photo: Julieta Cervantes
Quietly, season by season, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet is building a sizable repertory with a distinct point of view, shaped by artistic director Benoit-Swan Pouffer. There really aren't many other companies of this scale and level of talent commissioning work by a range of choreographers; most contemporary companies are founded and run by one artist. Morphoses was founded as a sort of "solar system" revolving around, but not exclusive to, Chris Wheeldon's choreography, with other dance makers contributing to a lesser extent. (Of course that has changed completely with his departure, moving to focus on one annually revolving choreographer; the exit of executive director Lourdes Lopez for Miami City Ballet yet again tosses it all up in the air.) But CLCB was founded strictly as a rep company, including occasional contributions and "installations" by Pouffer, who in any case is smart enough to defer to coveted choreographers, unlike, say, Peter Martins at NYCB.
This season, the company returns to the Joyce with two programs. The first featured new dances by Hofesh Schechter and Crystal Pite, two hot, internationally-respected names, and Annonciation (1995) by Angelin Preljocaj. As it happens with commissions, it's difficult to know what you're getting until it's done. And by coincidence, Schechter and Pite's works have enough in common that they would've been better served being on different programs. (The second features premieres by Regina van Berkel, Alexander Ekman, and Jo Stromgren.)
In fact, their juxtaposition makes it nearly impossible to discuss either on its own. Both tap a mood of post-industrial desperation; dramatic, dark lighting; muscular, grounded movement that punches and bullies its way across the stage, primarily in groups. In Violet Kid, Schechter's appealing vocabulary roils around the torso (his Gaga roots tangible), the dancers pugilists, scooting, bobbing, hunched over like gorillas, moving in makeshift tribes. The dancers wear everyday clothes (by Schechter and Junghyun Georgia Lee), making them relatable. Polymath Schechter also created the music which featured a string trio floating upstage, with recorded sections—at times anarchic, ominous, with a steady throbbing percussion line evocative of a heartbeat.
|Grace Engine by Crystal Pite. Photo: Julieta Cervantes
Both he and Pite line the dancers along the stage's edge. In Pite's Grace Engine, to a score by Owen Belton, Nancy Haeyung Bae clothes the dancers in gunmetal suits and white shirts, reminiscent of assassins or CIA agents. The dancers coil and lash out their legs, martial arts-style, whirling and drawing back, awkwardly hopping on a fist and a knee, hunching over. Mime screaming and ripple effect actions with linked arms skewed toward the cliche, but if I hadn't seen Violet Kid first, it might've felt completely fresh. Jon Bond stood out for his snaky fluidity among a company of gorgeous dancers.
Annonciation featured Harumi Terayama and Acacia Schachte. Preljocaj also designed the L-shaped bench where Schachte cradled Terayama, coaxing her to her feet, where they moved in tandem through elegant, sculpted shapes. This tender duet, set to music by Stephane Roy and Antonio Vivaldi, with important lighting by Jacques Chatelet, served as a needed buffer on the program. Despite the aesthetic coincidences, kudos to Cedar Lake for consistently delivering new work.