We modern dancers can be very snarky when it comes to a company like Cedar Lake. Bred seemingly for competition babies and “So You Think You Can Dance” stars, this company is known as much for its flashy repertory as it is for the personalities and idiosyncrasies of its dancers. But Cedar Lake’s show at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House was more than whipped cream: the dancers proved themselves nuanced artists with a surprising capacity for humor, of all things. Saturday night’s program - Program C -included pieces by Crystal Pite (associate choreographer for the company), Alexander Ekman and Jo Strømgren.

Cedar Lake: Grace Engine © Julieta Cervantes
Cedar Lake: Grace Engine
© Julieta Cervantes
 Pite’s Grace Engine (2012) was, according to press materials, a continued “exploration of the familiar storylines that connect mankind” (catch-all language that always causes me to shudder).  Its train station setting and score did little to elevate this piece out of the typical full-throttle choreographic Pite canon.  Moments of exaggerated slow motion grew tiresome and predictable, as did the dancers’ silent Edvard Munch-sequence screams.  A male quartet near the middle of the piece was perhaps the best example of Ms. Pite’s stop-motion versus lyrical vocabulary, but little of the work felt designed to speak of the human condition. A scene in which the company, now clad in flesh-coloured tank tops, faced upstage and marched rhythmically with sharply descending shoulders was singular in its authenticity.  

Mr. Ekman’s Tuplet, on the other hand, was a wonderfully orchestrated and surprisingly funny meditation on rhythm and impulse for six dancers. Billy Bell’s opening solo, in silhouette upstage, consisted of his following the voice of a male narrator, at turns commanding and mildly sadistic, with accompanying choreographic tasks at rapid speed. Near the piece’s middle, the six dancers stood downstage on individual squares of white marley, each in a spotlight pool. As the name of each was recited, he or she would adopt a pose or short movement to match the changing narrator voices. Mr. Bell’s frantic and surprised knee-jerk was giggle-inducing in its swift repetition. 

Cedar Lake: Tuplet © Julieta Cervantes
Cedar Lake: Tuplet
© Julieta Cervantes
 

The final work, Necessity Again, required a somewhat elaborate set of table, chairs and clothes lines full of hanging paper. Spoken text of Jacques Derrida on the evil of necessity, interspersed with the French music of Charles Aznavour, felt unwelcomingly disconcerting, as if an essential piece of the puzzle had been accidentally omitted. Matthew Rich’s involuntary pelvic thrusts seemed symptomatic of an overarching malady that may or may not have infected the rest of the cast - a general lusting and unrequited pursuit of physical pleasure. When these moments of just-beneath-the-surface sexual longing were cut with snappy vignettes of near social dancing, the result was confusion. It was as if Necessity Again had several themes, and each was competing unfairly for our attention. 

Cedar Lake: Necessity Again © Paula Lobo
Cedar Lake: Necessity Again
© Paula Lobo

I left the theater feeling pleased with the extraordinary talent of the dancers, but somewhat underwhelmed by the choreographic pool. These dancers had proved themselves worthy of nuanced work, with text and humor, but their facility was muddled by occasionally bland and confusing choreography.

***11