On Friday, I spent my night among men with an inordinate amount of washboard abs, beautiful long-legged women and one single lady — and no, this wasn’t a swanky cocktail party, though I was offered a glass of complimentary wine.
New York-based dance company Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet graced the stage of the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts during the weekend with choreographer Ohad Naharin’s Deca Dance
Naharin, who is known for developing the movement style “gaga,” which seeks to generate complete fluidity in the body, said in the program notes that Deca Dance
was constructed of pieces of existing works, reorganized “to look at them from new angles.”
“It’s like telling only either the beginning, middle or ending of many stories and from the way it is organized, and glued together, comes its coherency,” Naharin said in the program notes.
Like Naharin’s style and the goal of the production, the concert flowed from piece to piece with transitions so smooth it became difficult to distinguish one piece from another. This ongoing presentation of pieces, which were unnamed, contributed to the holistic effect of the concert.
Earlier that week, I took a class with Cedar Lake’s ballet mistress, Alexandra Damiani. Despite her impeccable technique and incredible extensions, I could see that she was not a traditional ballet teacher. I was not surprised, since I knew she was a contemporary ballerina, but I didn’t realize just how contemporary Cedar Lake was until I watched the company dance.
The performance opened with a piece so uninhibited I knew I was watching dancers put everything they had on the stage. I wasn’t just seeing movement — I was seeing an outpouring of emotion, passion and strength. The dancers were in a line at the front edge of the stage, inches away from the front row of the audience, taking turns bursting out in fearless flares of movement without warning. The choreography was perfect for an opening piece; it was confrontational yet so raw it exposed a certain vulnerability that seemed to welcome a relationship between dancer and audience.
A short transition gave the audience little time to process the choreography when a couple came on-stage for what was an unconventional pas de deux. The performers shared the responsibility of the duet between the man and the woman, eliminating typical gender roles in ballet when the male performer hit his head against his partner’s chest so hard it echoed and collided his arm against her waist to stop her from moving, a contrast to traditional ballet where the male’s role is to support his partner.
It was clear by now that Cedar Lake is a company that pushes past the norms of dance, art and society by moving far from conventions. The next piece explored the subject of conformity versus non-conformity. Five male dancers passed a bucket of mud down a line, each painting himself with the same design as the first dancer did before proceeding to copy his movement. It wasn’t until the piece had progressed before the real potential and athleticism of the dancers was portrayed, but when it came, the height of the jumps and the strength of the partnering were incredible.
This power contributed to the choreography and the meaning of the piece when the non-conformer, who washed the paint off his face and chest halfway through the piece, was held by the neck and beat repeatedly against the floor.
The mood of anxiety and fear made a full 180-degree turn when Ebony Williams, who was featured in Beyoncé’s music video for “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” strutted onto the stage in four-feet-tall stilts and a supermodel walk, a glamorous silver microphone in tow. Williams shook her hips and lip-synced with the intensity only a diva can have, all on a pair of skinny little stilts — that’s the last time I’ll ever complain about pointe shoes.
Cedar Lake’s wide range of abilities was stunning, but the company was nowhere near done exhibiting its versatility.
Narration, rather than music, accompanied the soloist, who appeared to be telling the story of a girl who enjoyed beatings so much she started to look for ways to be punished and found that dancing naked throughout the house was what bothered her mother the most.
“I realized that God is an invention,” the narrator said during the solo, “like pizza.”
Another piece featured the whole company spread throughout the stage, each dancer shaking his or her hips with comical, cartoon-like smiles on their faces.
The piece most often associated with Naharin’s Deca Dance
has dancers seated in chairs in a semicircle around the stage. In a wave, the dancers flung themselves off their chairs in violent bursts of movement, returning slowly into a state of calm.
The movement was so high-energy that crew members had to replace chairs the dancers had broken even during the show.
Throughout the piece, dancers threw articles of clothing — shoes, pants, jackets — into the middle of the stage. The piece was laden with a submission to movement and a submission to gravity, as if the performers were allowing the choreography to happen rather than making it happen.
The complexity of the movement throughout the performance was juxtaposed by the simplicity of the costumes. Every dancer wore the same ensembles, which included either a black tank and black shorts or a grey tank and grey shorts. This uniformity allowed the audience to see the movement as it was, but took away from the mood of the concert.
The piece with the chairs is usually performed in the traditional suits and hats worn by Hasidic Jews, and the duet typically features intricately adorned costumes of rich materials.
Like the costumes, the lighting of the show was very basic. There was no color, but the lighting did create an atmosphere for the pieces being performed, with a fully-lit stage paired with more uplifting pieces and dimmer, shadowy lights accompanying heavier pieces.
“You’re not trying to reach aesthetic beauty in any way,” Damiani said of the dancing in Deca Dance
in an audio recording during one of the transitions. “It’s still beautiful, but you’re not thinking it, you’re doing it.”
, according to Naharin in the program notes, was about “paying attention to details without forgetting the whole.” In an extraordinary performance that had audience members on their feet, Cedar Lake brought together those details to create a whole that induced tears, anger, laughter and amazement.
— Contact Alice Chen