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Auckland Arts Festival: Cedar Lake - review

Mar 13, 2015 Theatre

The Arts Festival performance by New York dance company Cedar Lake is a triple bill of commissioned choreography from an intimidating collection of international A-list choreographers: Canadian Crystal Pite, UK-based Israeli Hofesh Schechter and Norwegian Jo Stromgren.

Cedar Lake bills itself as a contemporary ballet company. This manifests as classically-trained dancers performing movement vocabularies and dialects from idiosyncratic stables of contemporary dance. Cedar Lake’s dancers enact this with extreme proficiency and some real heart.

Crystal Pite’s work Grace Engine was the show opener. An evasive contemplation on time and “the human condition”, the choreographic imagery was both engaging and distant. Grace Engine appeared to draw heavily from film composition to generate its own structure, imagery and style. Essentially an abstract work that, to its credit, didn’t rely on spoken text in the sound score to create context or exposition, the choreography still felt like a polished draft: interesting ideas in transition to becoming another work entirely.

Hofesh Schechter’s Violet Kid offered satisfying moments of complex movement and high-speed brooding. Schechter really knows how to manipulate groups of dancers, creating insectoid waves of bodies then ripping them apart like giant loaves of fresh bread. The performers maintained a bent-leg stature throughout the work that seldom straightened. When they did stand, the dancers positioned themselves in relaxed static pirouettes staring bluntly at the audience, or combined to form funky nodding wailing walls. The sound composition, also written by Schechter, bedded and softened the dance in an endless theatrical build. The dancers echoed that softness in their bodies without compromising their athleticism. Violet Kid moved along beautifully but then felt editorially compromised with an extended and pointless epilogue. I liked this piece a lot, even though it ultimately felt like a gentrified song of protest.

The evening’s happy ending was Necessity Again, choreographed by Jo Stromgren. This work traded strongly on its jazz-hands charm and coming-of-age imagery. Episodic in nature, the choreography rested on the structure of the soundtrack, consisted of samples of Jacques Derrida text interspersed with song. Looking very much like a homage to boogie-woogie-bugle-boy 50’s Americana, Necessity Again used period costume, props, theatrics, and mime for mostly comic effect. A baffling sex scene on a table, however, had me back at square one and I no longer knew what was going on.

For the dance aficionado, seeing a company like Cedar Lake is an opulent experience. The seventeen dancers are more than adept at shouldering a diverse repertoire of choreographic styles whilst effortlessly delivering a lot of nuance. If you’re looking for ungarnished, challenging and conceptually rude choreography then you’re at the wrong show. However if you like your contemporary dance to be entertaining, easily digestible and impeccably presented then Cedar Lake delivers.

Cedar Lake: The Civic, until March 15.


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