By Avriel Epps – Cougar News Contributor
You may or may not be aware that ballet has evolved beyond tulle tutus and pink tights. The days of “how many pirouettes can one man do” competitions, reminiscent of the Baryshnikov era, are long gone; a new down-to-earth, raw, contemporary style of ballet has emerged.
Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet may not have been the trailblazer of its field – how could they when they’ve only been around since 2003? – but its definitely poised to become the next leader of its industry.
The little know New York based company, named one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch” in 2009, distinguishes itself with its European flair and emphasis on acquiring and commissioning new works by the world’s most sought-after choreographers. The dancers are edgy, sleek, and sexy, with technical abilities that are nothing short of Olympian athleticism. The diverse background of the troupe’s sixteen dancers makes for a uniquely rich mixture of style and interpretation in each piece they perform. Their vision is unlike any other company around – restless, avant garde, and still hauntingly beautiful. They triumph, where others have failed, at challenging the status quo and pushing artistic boundaries, while still remaining relevant, entertaining, and aesthetically pleasing to a mass audience.
The company made its LA debut earlier this month at UCLA’s Royce Hall. They performed a bill that included works by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Crystal Pite, Jo Stromgen, and Didy Veldman. Cherkaoui’s piece was exceptionally phenomenal. A 12-foot tall, fire-engine red, metal cage set the stage for an interpretation of Jill Bolte Taylor’s story, “My Stroke of Insight”. The work creatively portrayed Taylor’s “accounts of heightened perception and euphoria following a left-brain stroke”. The story was part comedic, part dramatic, part theatrical, and completely elegant. The cage, manipulated by the dancers to set different visual scenarios throughout the piece, represented a metaphor to express the entrapment humans can face within their own minds and the ever complex interweavings of the human consciousness.
The dancers twitched, twirled, and slithered their way through interpretations of electrical synaptic firings, left and right brain duality, and dissolution of barriers between reality and perception. Cherkaoui’s exploration of control versus chaos, equilibrium versus instability, was poignant and enchanting. The way the dancers acrobatically flopped up and down, undulated from the waist, seemingly dislocated every joint in their bodies, and effortlessly stood on their necks and heads seemed as surreal as the story they were attempting to tell.
Unfortunately, Isabelle Lhoas’ costume design and Szymon Brzóska’s score fell short compared to the art direction of Benoit-Swan Pouffer and Cherkaoui’s choreography. Overall though, the performance left UCLA’s entire hall in awe. “I’ve held season tickets to Royce Hall for 25 years, and never have I seen something so athletically beautiful,” exclaimed one patron as the audience exited the theater, and I am not hesitant to predict that in 25 years I’ll have seen anything comparable either.