THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
Sadlers Wells Theatre, London. This short run has now ended.
It is not often that a brand new, large-scale dance company is created in these grim times, so it was a pleasure to welcome the premiere UK performances of Cedar Lake Ballet from New York. Founded in 2003 by Nancy Laurie, heir to the Walmart empire, the company has made quite a splash, and under its Artistic Director, the Frenchman and ex-Alvin Ailey dancer, Benoit-Swan Pouffer, it has distinguished itself by acquiring and commissioning new works from the world’s most sought after and emerging choreographers, as well as hiring an exceptionally talented core of 16 dancers.
This policy was evident at Sadlers Wells, where they presented pieces by three of the hottest names in world dance – the British-based Israeli Hofesh Shechter, the Swedish Alexander Ekman and the Canadian Crystal Pite. While all had merit, they did, however, mirror each other choreographically, and in terms of design and overall ethos. Industrial warehouse grunge and urban anomie could be the common denominator.
Shechter’s piece, Violet Kid, created for the company, had all his trademarks: an ear-splitting, rock-infused percussive score created by the choreographer himself; constant charges and retreats by battalions of chest beating macho stamping figures; abrupt fades to black and jolting switches in tone which added to an air of menace. Its visceral male posturing resembled an MTV Base aesthetic on steroids.
Ekman’s Tuplet was similarly noir-ish, but gladly redeemed by some prankish humour. An 18-minute tour de force for six dancers who responded to their own rhythmic impulses and used their bodies as percussion instruments to create a soundscape fully integrated with the electronic score. Layered on top of this were video screens of disjointed bodies and spoken word excerpts. As in Shechter’s work, women and men were indistinguishable, no doubt a merciful release for the young ballerinas, saved from a fate of seasons of Nutcrackers.
Like the others, Ekman, born in 1984, is a child of the video game era, and the fly’s attention span which that engendered, informs an aesthetic of quick fades, sharp spotlights and fast ‘edits’. There’s no Scandinavian gloom in evidence though, as this is a jaunty piece that even uses Fly Me to the Moon. Ekman is one to watch.
Crystal Pite has already had an acclaimed run in London with her company Kidd Pivot. Here we got Grace Engine, a new piece for Cedar Lake, which again showcases her clear quality of movement but next to the other pieces it lost some definition. The fluorescent strip lighting, the bare stage, the grunge wardrobe all wreak of William Forsythe. Been there, done that. More noise, more teenage angst and more urban alienation. By the end, this kid who grew up on a sheep farm and fled to city lights wanted to scream at these choreographers – why not try out teenage rural life, there you’ll really learn about alienation.
The roll call of choreographers who Pouffer has brought to Cedar Lake reads like a Who’s Who of current European dance (e.g. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Angelin Preljocaj, Ohad Naharin) and New York is embracing them. It is great to see a company of such excellent dancers given such free rein and the time and space to create new work with these star choreographers. In terms of programming though, this first sample which they brought to London, could have given us a bit more light and shade, and dare I say it some colour. I’m so over grunge.