Of the three works on Cedar Lake’s program on Thursday, it was only Crystal Pite’s memorable Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue that was original repertory for the company. You could tell. The cast owned that performance with much more of a sense of purpose than the other two works on the program: Kylián’s delightfully narcissistic “Indigo Rose”, and Johan Inger’s wandering dance essay set to the music of Tom Waits.  Both those choreographies are imports from NDT II, and Basel Ballet.

The close-up spaces of the Irvine Barclay Theater give you a chance to really see chamber companies like Cedar Lake. You feel like you are breathing the same air as the dancers rather than peering at them from a distance. That vantage point made all the works seem more present but it was especially effective for the intricate partnering and intimacy of Ten Duets which expresses the demands and physicality of contact improvisation beautifully. The dancers in fact remain “in touch” throughout many of the evolving sequencing of same and mixed sex duos that make up the 18 minute work. The cast included three men and two women.

The focus on size was even more extreme as a result of the hard white lighting (mostly directed from onstage light trees) that left a vast expanse of darkened space overhead. The duos, in fleeting vignettes, all find ways in which the dancers hold, catch, or balance one another. In one memorable image a woman slowly lunges her way across the stage. She is trailed by a flailing partner. He grasps her trailing arm like a life line. Some of the movement is deliberate, slow; some embraces floor crashes and hyper dance. The stark, eerie music by Cliff Martinez from the sci-fi film “Solaris” (2002) backed the dancing with hypnotic effect.  It sounded at times like an amplified glass harmonica.

Indigo Rose (1998) is something of a youthful romp with two distinct polarities. Two of the four movements indulge in roiling, extroverted movement set against rhythmic scores (Robert Ashley and John Cage). The remaining two movements unwind against more contemplative and solemn scores: one, an extended lament from Couperin’s instrumental tribute to Lully, the other an expansive fugue from Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier. For musical sophistication Kylián’s work set the bar high. The Cage music for prepared piano sounded Gamelan-like. A huge white diagonal scrim projected shadows of the dancers in motion; it made for a clever, updated reference to the theatrical side Gamelan music. The versatile hot blooded dancers of Cedar Lake, especially Ida Saki and Jon Bond, made the most of the showy stuff and looked mature in the slow sections. The colorless, opaque lighting environments were designed by Michael Simon and Kees Tjebbes. The cast included nine dancers and a backdrop of black and white video projections by Rob de Groot.

The concluding and longest work on this program, Rain Dogs, by the Swedish choreographer Johan Inger, felt ultimately like an uneasy marriage of two hipsters, one European, the other American. Tom Waits’ story driven music seemed poorly served in the process. A long opening segment for a single male dancer riffed (cribbed would be stating it more honestly) on a similar, now classic opening from Ohad Naharine’s Minus 16. Here it was derivative, and lacked relevancy. Another segment featured hot white light pouring down on a toy stuffed dog. Welcome to the sometimes pretentious world of Euro trash. To be fair, there is exceptional dance in Rain Dogs it’s just that it doesn’t feel clearly pointed at Inger’s complex story line. While there may be an abundance of “grotesque dislocations” as the choreographer puts it (at one point the men and women switch clothes, trading suits for dresses) the intended “portraits of relationships and individuals” remained vague.

The Irvine audience dove in deep with appreciation. The company moves on with performances in San Diego, Berkeley, and Portland, Oregon later this month.

(Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet founded in 2003 is based in New York. The company is currently directed by Alexandra Damiani. They perform work based mostly on contemporary, theatrical European ballet idioms. Many of the works come from dancemakers closely associated with NDT.)



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