The New York-based Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet is named after a street in Missouri, home of the studio where one of the company’s founders studied ballet many years ago. Both locales – in Missouri and in New York City – are a far distance from any lake, but somehow the name is appropriate: evoking visions of the still and pristine natural world of a wilderness lake. The fifteen dancers of this daring and dynamic company are powerful performers, both in their musculature and their ability to summon the energy necessary to dance the demanding choreography they do so well. You can only achieve this level of skill by living day in and day out in a world of quiet and focused attention, by dedicating yourself to the elemental forces of the body and dance.

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, Necessity Again © Jane Hobson
Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, Necessity Again
© Jane Hobson

There is a point in the life of any young company – and Cedar Lake is only ten years old – when the repertory and the dancers begin to establish the shape of the company’s artistic direction. The dancers are comfortable enough with each other to understand their individual potential and strengths, and the artistic directors have made a substantial number of choices regarding repertory. That’s when the company comes into its own and becomes truly exciting to watch and follow. It’s safe to say Cedar Lake is at that point.

During their two performances at Sadler’s Wells, the company presented three ballets each night: Jiri Kylián’s Indigo Rose (1998), Crystal Pite’s Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue (2008), and Jo Strømgren’s Necessity, Again (2012). The range of the choreographers’ backgrounds – Czech, Canadian and Norwegian – emphasizes that dance is now a truly global exchange. And the dancers themselves come from a variety of backgrounds and nationalities: American, Brazilian, Korean, Australian, Portuguese and French. Such diversity is widespread among large companies and is becoming more prevalent among smaller ones.

Interim artistic director Alexandra Damiani explained the company’s commitment to European choreographers as a means of presenting unusual works to the New York dance scene. She also mentioned that, being French, she “followed her heart”, when choosing choreographers that shared her training and tradition. But she also said that what had first brought her to dance was Michael Jackson, a source of inspiration that was emphatically shared by dancer Ebony Williams, one of the company’s most spectacular dancers. And as if to underline that source, the opening male pas de trois of Kylián’s Indigo Rose, generously partook of Jackson’s moon-walking style of dance with its percussive and exactly defined movements.

More striking in Indigo Rose, which opened the program, was Kylián’s play with shadow. Midway through the piece a triangular curtain of fine white silk reeled out, dividing the stage in half. The dancers appeared and disappeared behind the billowing silk, which was lit from behind. The placement of the dancers between the light and the curtain created spatial fantasies, like those in Javanese puppet theatre. The effect was startling and humourous.

Crystal Pite’s piece was darker in character, with interweaving pas each of which suggested a narrative, and often a narrative connected to the idea of rescue. There was something dire in the complicated steps, which were more like contemporary dance, unlike the Kylián piece, which was based in ballet.

The strongest narrative came in Jo Strømgren’s wryly comic comment on the devastating dullness of intellectual pursuits and the wild freedom and compulsive nature of the erotic. The piece opens with two dancers in everyday clothes dragging a laundry line hung with sheets of A4 paper across the stage. Another dancer staggers in under the burden of a box overflowing with paper, which is promptly dropped. Soon the stage is covered with paper; the dancers in workaday clothes, holding heaps of paper. Across the dark stage and its fluttering paper burden comes the recorded voice of Jacques Derrida. He is talking, with many hesitations and much stammering, about Necessity. Nothing he says makes much sense: it’s all too abstract. One of the dancers sinks to the floor. Then the voice of Charles Aznavour replaces Derrida, and the atmosphere lightens, becomes playful, then erotically suggestive. The song finishes and Derrida is stammering away again: is he talking about Desire? Seriously? Another dancer collapses. Aznavour starts in again. Suddenly one of the male dancers is shirtless, and he’s not just built, he’s ripped. Women in the audience gasp. He begins moving the naked and very long legs of one of the female dancers who is now lying on a table. It’s all very sexual, and soon everyone is in their underwear, dancing en masse. Is that Derrida talking again? Umm. About Death? Seriously? OK, time to get dressed.

It was a great way to end the evening. And the audience paid tribute to these splendid dancers with an enthusiastic symphony of shouting, clapping, stamping and whistling. A great time was had by all.

*****