Cedar Lake gave its final performances as a company this past weekend at BAM. What could’ve been a sad event—and indeed, it was at least bittersweet—was actually much more of a celebration of a company so full of talented artists and of a varied, crowd-pleasing repertoire. In another company’s hands, these final shows could have been a maudlin, overwrought experience; Cedar Lake had the wisdom to take each piece one at a time, giving every work the fully-realized, invested performance it deserved. As for the dancers themselves, they were—to borrow an adjective often heard in the competitive studio dance world, from which more than a few of the company members come from—fierce.

<i>My Generation</i> © Juliet Cervantes
My Generation
© Juliet Cervantes

Thursday’s performance opened with Jiri Kylian’s Desert Rose, a musically eclectic 2013 work that finishes with a black-and-white, stop-motion film featuring the dancers (the recording appeared to be older — some of its dancers are no longer with the present Cedar Lake company). It's most successful moments occur just before the ending film, when the piece is most simple: The dancers mimic the piano voices in the Bach fugue that is accompanying them, walking and stopping and repeating.

Crystal Pite’s Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue was sandwiched as the second work on both nights I saw the company perform — Thursday and Friday. Pite, who is Cedar Lake’s associate choreographer, clearly knows the company’s strengths and penchant for ooey-gooey partnering, slippery-as-fish extensions and buoyant floor work. Ten Duets feels like a slip of a piece, with dancers appearing and disappearing almost magically from the set of some dozen spotlight trees, positioned in a semi-circle around the stage. It felt better on Friday night—less sticky, less careful. In one of its more memorable images, Navarra Novy-Williams slowly lunged her way across the stage, her downstage arm fully extended behind her, waiting for Matthew Rich—who ran helplessly in place a few feet away, only to touch her fingers before falling behind again. 

Thursday night’s closer, Jo Strømgren’s Necessity, Again, is probably my favorite Cedar Lake piece. It’s certainly more of a production, with its Derrida text and strewn pages and clotheslines full of more pages, but it also manages to let the dancers shine technically—breathtaking battements, ecstatic leaps into waiting arms, sultry table dances—even as it allows for more casual social dance (and even brief onstage singing along to Charles Aznavour’s nostalgic music).

<i>My Generation</i> © Juliet Cervantes
My Generation
© Juliet Cervantes
Friday’s closing piece was somewhat less successful. In its New York premiere, Johan Inger’s Rain Dogs (set to the music of the gravelly-voiced Tom Waits) felt like an only occasional exploration of suburbia and neuroses. Nickemil Concepcion’s idiosyncratic nervous breakdown of sorts at the piece’s start, for example, felt both gimmicky and believable. (A stuffed poodle which eventually caught fire and smoldered on stage felt mostly gimmicky—though it did garner laughs.) Vânia Doutel Vaz managed to transform gesture into meaningful movement.

The real showpiece of both evening, however, was Richard Siegal’s premiere, My Generation. The dancers strutted around the stage in outrageously fringed outfits by Bernard Willhelm, in what felt like a rousing rock anthem of a love letter to the company’s devoted fans. Though every dancer eventually found the groove within Mr. Siegal’s in-your-face athleticism and millennial-aged onstage cockiness, this piece—like nearly every piece that he was in—belonged to Matthew Rich. His crispness, unmatched pirouetting ability, emotional depth and, of course, long, flowing locks continually set him apart on stage. Watching him lip-sync the words to Peter Townshend’s “My Generation” felt like the best send-off Cedar Lake could have ever hoped for. 

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