Seen: Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet

Civic Theatre

Thursday 12th March

Artistic Director Alexandra Damiani

Followed by post-show Q & A with the artists.


In the opulent Civic Theatre, Cedar Lake performs its New Zealand premiere. We are treated to a triple bill of mixed and diverse works. As a complete package, they demonstrate the vibrancy and vivacity of their home, New York City, while also celebrating the superb technique of their dancers. Contemporary ballet is a genre we don’t see too much of in NZ. We are fortunate that the Royal New Zealand Ballet embraces contemporary as well as classical ballet repertoire, but this is the only professional company performing this style of dance. We often have to wait for touring internationals to bring this massively popular, and constantly expanding, style of movement to our major stages.


The first piece, Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite’s Grace Engine is a bold and breathtaking start. A work for fourteen dancers, the ballet is her second for Cedar Lake. The concept is sophisticated and intriguing – “the human experience is a series of moments along a timeline…the dancing contains flashes of recognisable narrative, as if the body itself is a cinematic device” (Cedar Lake programme notes). The work has a minimalist palette – charcoal suits for the men and women, singlet tops in neutral tones beneath. The lighting is sophisticated and carefully considered, and remarkably tight in a show that teched in an afternoon. Lighting effects include: a line of fluorescent tubes bisecting stage right, side lights illuminating movement but obscuring detail, a gauze lit from the back to reveal an isolated dancer for a moment. The use of blackout was effective, especially in highlighting moments of movement into sudden stillness. The soundscape opened with footsteps, which were matched by the opening solo in the choreography. Subway sounds created imaginative rhythms, played out by the dancers. Dancer Matthew Rich is particularly accurate and controlled in this work, and stood out in a company of high-calibre technicians. The two pas de deux (dance for two or duo), the first male/female, the second female/female were fluid, imaginative and display exquisite technique. The dancers work together as though unaware of one another for the first portion of their partnering. The conections created between them were creative and original.


The second work, Hofesh Schechter’s Violet Kid is the knock-out of the evening for me. The choreographer “…continues his unique examination of man’s struggle for harmony within  a complex and sometimes horrifying universe…” (Cedar Lake programme notes). Schechter is a remarkable artist – he not only created the score (for cello, viola and double bass), but also designed the costumes and the lighting. The sighing, sometimes industrial sound is ambient yet successfully rhythmic. It integtrates with the startling use of stillness, blackout and live body percussion. The movement vocabulary is gesture and repetition based. There is a ritualistic quality in the choreography, with a tangible undertone of violence or horror. The work is built up gradually, featuring sophisticated groupings and formations of effect. Ebony Williams is at her powerful best in this work, both physically impressive and emotionally controlling in the space. This work resonates with the audience. I need more time to digest its dark beauty.


Finally, Necessity, Again choreographed by Jo Stromgren is a lighter and more frivilous piece. I completely understand its placement at the end of the show, to uplift the audience and celebrate the company, however, I felt disappointed that the more powerful and poignant works that preceded it were not left to speak for themselves. Necessity, Again is artistically staged, with clothes pegs pinning endless papers to infinite washing lines, and a rich selection of 1950s styled costumes. Recorded text and a lively sore of French music was energetic and sweet. If this work had opened the show, I think I would’ve spent more time appreciating the technical prowess of the dancers, rather than finding it falling short of the meaning and impact of the previous ballets. The audience enjoyed the moments of quirky humour in this piece, even if the transition to a sexually-themed pas de quatre (dance for four) with one woman and three men was somewhat strange.


An outstanding performance, which drew deserved admiration and applause at the curtain call. Cedar Lake is not to be missed. Exquisite.
Gold Stars: 5/5


Image by Gate Photography


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