Saturday July 6, 2013

BECKET -- Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet appears to be continuing a focused effort to create a niche for itself in the world of dance through an eclectic mix of repertory drawn from choreographers throughout the world and a stable of dancers ready, willing and able to communicate those diverse ideas.

This year marks a milestone decade -- Cedar Lake was founded in 2003 by Nancy Laurie, the WalMart heiress, and accordingly became the envy of many for the unique 52-week contracts and benefits for its dancers, along with some equally generous facilities in which to make dance in notoriously high-rent Manhattan.

But the year also signaled the sudden departure in May of Benoit-Swan Pouffer, the troupe’s enthusiastic artistic director, who once proclaimed, "What I look for is a quality of movement and an aesthetic I don’t already have in my repertoire."

The three works making optimum use of the Ted Shawn Theatre stage this week at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival are from Pouffer’s eight-year tenure all from premieres in 2012, and reflecting his passion for eclecticism.

The world of Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite’s "Grace Engine" was an unnerving spot to be at Wednesday’s opening. As the curtain parted very slowly, a line of five fluorescent tubes overhead spread eerie light patterns, and a series of screeches of a locomotive alternately slowing and speeding provided an even more unsettling atmosphere.


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The locomotive motif was part of Owen Belton’s ominously strident electronic score, which included recurring footsteps clomping in a resonant chamber, proved compatible with Pite’s strikingly cinematic visual approach.

Dancers -- men and women clad in colorless suits with genders seeming less significant -- appeared in quick cuts, alternating their movement in chaos, then reasonable order; in feverish group crouches and lifts, often repeating sequences, but in the last analysis, suggesting no bonding. Several of these scenes end in freeze frames of silent screams worthy of Edvard Munch.

Just short of 30 minutes, "Grace Engine" is an uncomfortable ordeal to watch, moody and dark, doubtlessly Pite’s objective in her depiction of what might be a bolgia of confinement looming around a future corner.

"Tuplet" by the young Swedish dance maker, Alexander Ekman, represents his quest for a definition of rhythm, according to a program note. Working with six of the dancers, he developed his 18-minute dance based on what he determined were rhythmic impulses of each.

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Following intermission Wednesday, the curtain already was opened to disclose the tech crew at work. Small projectors on each side of the stage beamed black-and-white films, two hands moving in rather cryptic sign language on the left, while on the right, were a series of close-ups of mouths, teeth prominent.

Ambling on stage, Ebony Williams, one of the dancers, found her spot on one of six large white panels arranged near the apron, initially moving her hands to mimic the film, then gradually involving her arms, her torso, and finally her entire body.

As the stage lights were extinguished, she was joined by five more dancers, outfitted in similar black vests and blue pants, and each confined to a square while reacting to Mikael Karlson’s score, which included an interpretation of "Fly Me to the Moon." Specific dancers, illuminated by spotlights and later called to order by a sonorous voice in the score, offered individual rhythmic impulses. Jon Bond, summoned repeatedly, produced a set of deep bodily twitches, eliciting considerable laughter from the responsive crowd.

In "Necessity, Again" by Joe Stromgren, the Norwegian choreographer, amorous songs from Charles Aznavour crossed paths sharply with the voiced deconstructionist opinions of the French philosopher, Jacques Derrida who famously made the distinction between the "who" one loves and specific qualities -- "the what" in his musings.

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Stromgren laments the seeming need to formulate everything in words, even the theme of necessity itself, and goes on the attack. A table and two chairs occupy the stage, but soon Stromgren’s dancers transport four clotheslines of hanging papers, with more and more papers delivered loosely and in boxes, all presumably filled with words.

But all of this appears not to affect the 10 dancers -- five men, five women -- who undergo several changes of attire, from street clothes to short undergarments and back, seeming more devoted to collaborative movement -- rather ordinary lifts, spins and circle dances -- oblivious of the surfeit of words.

At the final curtain, one of the clotheslines of papers is seized and employed as a jump rope. Stromgren clearly has scored one for emotion - what he calls the spaces between words -- over rationality, the mutterings of Derrida, but taking far too long to prove a point.