Cedar Lake's So So Spring Program, More Robbins at NYCB, and Why Everyone Should Be Like Tyler

I spent all day at a literary magazine fair downtown (and bought 27 lit magazines — all at $2 a piece, which is a huge discount from their normal prices). So lots of reading to do! They have this fair every year and it’s a great opportunity to get acquainted with some of the new little magazines, and re-acquainted with the old. It’s organized by CLMP. Saturday they had a series of readings, which I had wanted to go to, but I really wanted to see the New York City Ballet program and then my plans afterward were thwarted by the crazy storm.

Anyway, my busy day is one of the reasons I’m behind on my dance writing. I don’t know how Philip keeps up so well, but damn am I jealous!

Friday night I went to Cedar Lake, finally, to see their spring season. I was invited to their opening night, along with all the other dance bloggers, but couldn’t go. So, they nicely extended their invitation for later in the season, which is, unfortunately, now over. But they’re having another installation coming up soon…

Anyway, I brought a friend with me (for once; I usually go alone, feeling the need to be alone with the art, to have my own personal connection with it — I know, I’m weird…), and maybe it’s because I was so worried about her not liking it (since she doesn’t often see dance) or maybe it’s just all the excellent reviews the bloggers gave the program (which I linked to here) that completely skyrocketed my expectations, but I have to be honest and say I was a bit underwhelmed.

(go here for some really good photos of the program taken by Alison at the DANCING PERFECTLY FREE blog)

First on was LASTING IMPRINT by Nicolo Fonte. This was one of my favorites of the night. There wasn’t a clear linear narrative here, but I still felt like there was something intense going on. At first the dancers thrashed about the stage making angular poses in pure silence. Suddenly, the lights went blood red and music began, a striking score by Steve Reich, and the ensemble dancing became more angular, more fierce, bursting into various patterns. Soon Jason Kittelberger (a striking dancer who sometimes has a rather sinister look to him) began a duet with Jessica Coleman Scott. The duet isn’t romantic, but is gentle at points, then turns a bit more fierce. At one point, Kittelberger appears to be dripping with sweat. I thought, poor guy, he’s really working hard, sweating up a storm. Then, I realized it was white paint he’d somehow covertly splashed on himself. When he returns to her and they dance more together, she eventually becomes covered with the paint as well. It ends on a more gentle but unsettled note, as far as I can remember. It was emotionally compelling and visually striking at points, but I’m not sure I found it very memorable.

The second piece was ANNONCIATION which all of my fellow bloggers went so nuts over I kept telling my friend, don’t worry, you’ll like the second one; everyone so far has LOVED it. Of course you should never say that to anyone, including yourself. It was a duet for two women by Angelin Preljocaj, supposedly a hot trendy Euro choreographer. Apparently it’s supposed to depict the Virgin Mary being consumed by the Holy Spirit, but I found it rather more violent than that. Jessica Lee Keller danced the part of Mary, and Acacia Schachte the Spirit. This couldn’t have been more perfectly cast: Keller has the most innocent-looking face; she looks a lot like a young Audrey Hepburn. Schachte on the other hand looks like the actress who played Nurse Ratchett in the film version of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST. You take one look at these two and you just know something untoward is about to happen. Keller sat on a bench enjoying her sunny day; soon Schachte appeared, approached her, Keller unable to see her but sensing a presence. The women dance together, at times the duet taking on what appear to be sexual overtones (at one point, Schachte even lodges her thumb forcefully into Keller’s mouth), and at the end, Schachte leaves and Keller looks up to the light, a blessed smile covering her face. I thought it was all too one note, and to be honest, found it a bit pretentious choreography-wise. But I thought the women were breathtakingly amazing dancers. Schachte has a very powerful angularity that can send chills down your spine and Keller has so much strength and energy in that tiny body. She makes beautiful shapes and she really knows how to use her innocent-looking face to full effect.

One thing about Cedar Lake is that they have a great group of dancers who all have different dance strengths and looks, that can be played off of each other to compelling effect. I would kind of liked to have seen Keller dance the duet from the first piece with Kittelberger.

The third piece was SUNDAY, AGAIN by Norwegian choreographer Jo Stromgren. I liked but didn’t love this one. Like the first, I thought it had bits that were really funny and mesmerizingly danced, but as a whole I felt it didn’t gel. The women are dressed in short white dresses that look like tennis garb and the men in preppy white pants and t-shirts. This piece makes full use of the ensemble, which, with this company I think I prefer to duets. The score is upbeat and fast and the dancers keep pace; every once in a while they break into a brisk walk and simply stomp across stage, and at points a man drags a badmitton net along the back of the stage, back and forth. Soon, the theme becomes the finding of badmitton balls in unusual places. A woman sits on a chair, looking like she is shyly trying to avoid attention. Men playfully tease her, trying to get her to dance. But she steadfastly remains seated. Soon, the sound of popping bubbles overtake the stage, as dancers click their tongues against the sides of their mouths. Soon, she begins to blow a bubble, very slowly. When she spits out an entire badmitton ball, it’s hilarious. I couldn’t figure out where that whole ball, its wings and all, were hiding in her tiny mouth. Later, another woman sits on the ground and another female dancer approaches her and tries to make friends. At first it’s playful, then turns more violent as the one woman forcefully begins grabbing into the sitting woman’s crotch. It’s kind of upsetting and you don’t really know what to make of it. When woman 2 eventually finds a badmitton ball tucked deep inside woman 1’s underwear, you’re relieved it was something so innocent after all. Later, the female dancers leap at the men, jumping on them as the men yell back like referees judging their efforts. I’m not entirely sure what to make of this but it kind of reminded me of the way that partner dancing can be like a sport, the way the woman sometimes uses the man as a kind of human jungle gym, the athletics involved in getting into a difficult lift. It made me laugh. But these moments didn’t really congeal into a compelling whole, to me… I dunno, maybe I just needed to see it again…

(photo of SUNDAY, AGAIN, by Carina Musk-Anderson, copied from Dancing Perfectly Free)

My friend was grateful that I asked her to go, said she was always happy to know what’s out there and always has a good time viewing art, but said she thought she just had too short of an attention span for things like this. I began wondering if I suffered from the same short attention span, since I had the same general reaction as she, far from that of my fellow bloggers.

But then I went to New York City Ballet on Saturday afternoon and realized I don’t have a short attention span at all; there’s just a real difference between the choreographers of the past and present. The program was one of the all-Robbins ones they’re showing as part of their Jerome Robbins celebration. Three of the four ballets on the program were pretty simple lacking a really dramatic plot line or huge virtuostic dancing, but were somehow nevertheless mesmerizing.

The first, 2&3 PART INVENTIONS, which Robbins choreographed for students, and set to Bach, was story-less but kept your attention with its variety of movement in which nothing becomes repetitive, original steps and partnering, and a structure with a discernable theme (though one about nothing more than young dance students playing around). The girls sometimes look like they’re running in slow motion across the floor, away from the boys; later they appear to tiptoe across. The boys humorously jump up and down smacking their thighs. A boy carries a girl off, her arms hugging her legs as she folds herself up into a little ball, about to roll over his forearm. Two boys walking parallel to each other pick up a girl and carry her between them, her legs continuing to move in the air, like she is playfully fighting them.

(photo of A SUITE OF DANCES by Paul Kolnick, from NYCB website)

The second piece, SUITE OF DANCES is a four-part solo Robbins originally made for Baryshnikov (it was danced here by a guest dancer from the Paris Opera Ballet, Nicolas le Riche) meant simply to convey one dancer’s interaction with music. A cellist (Ann Kim) sets up her instrument onstage and the ballet consists of a kind of dialog she has with le Riche. He takes position on the floor, her eyes follow him, he nods for her to begin, every so often each looking at the other, eyes making contact, smiling, like they have a silent pact. The four music pieces vary in speed and style, from soft and lyrical to fast paced with lots of staccato notes and accompanying intricate footwork and quick, nimble jumps, and in the end, le Riche nearly collapses at the cellist’s ridiculously speedy tempo. He tries to keep up, but finally, he shrugs at the audience, and does his own thing, at his own pace. I liked le Riche but don’t know if he had the charisma to pull off such a solo; I would really like to see Baryshnikov on tape dancing the ballet.

Third was IN MEMORY OF…, a very sad ballet to music by Alban Berg, dealing with Berg’s misery on learning of the death of his friend’s daughter. The dance conveys first a portrait of the girl, then her illness and death, and finally her transportation into the spirit world. The first section was bittersweet as Jared Angle picked up tiny Wendy Whelan (with her vulnerability, the perfect ballerina to dance the part of the girl) and cradled her in his arms, rocking her back and forth in a fish position. The most emotionally jarring section for me, though, was the second, when large Charles Askegard becomes aggressive and somewhat violent, stepping back and forth over Wendy as she lay on the ground, scooping her up and trying to shake her out of something, later lifting her in a t-position, so she almost looks like she is on a cross. In the end the two men carry her off in a poetic, heaven-bound lift.

(photo of IN MEMORY OF… by Paul Kolnick, from NYCB website)

My favorite of the night was the last, GLASS PIECES, full of energy, very urban and contemporary, and set to fun, variegated Philip Glass music, always a feast for the ears. Completely story-less (making it an odd favorite for me), this ballet is all about using dance to make music visual. The dancers run, walk, stomp, strut, jog in slow motion, jog in place somehow making slowly advancing progress, back and forth across the stage in brightly colored dance wear that somehow looks like it could be street wear as well.

(photo of Tyler Angle and Wendy Whelan rehearsing a Christopher Wheeldon ballet by Paul Kolnick, from New York Times)

I noticed when sets of dancers jogged in place that Tyler Angle, about whom I just waxed poetic (or maybe not so poetic 🙂 ) was one of them. As he did so, he looked at his partner, the female dancer jogging next to him. He regarded her not as if he was in competition with her, but more like he was trying to figure out what she was going to do, where she wanted to go, so he could perhaps follow. Whatever his intentions toward her were, they were there and he pulled me into the ballet with them, made me want to watch him. There were three sets of dancers and he was the only one who did anything other than look blankly forward. This is why I like Tyler Angle. I remember now I noticed he did something similar in THE FOUR SEASONS when he and a couple of other men were doing jumps in place. He looked at them, each one in turn, smiling. But they stared straight forward, refusing to have an exchange with him — or not so much refusing as not even acknowledging his effort. Tyler brings character to the dance, so that he and the dancers around him aren’t merely inanimate brush strokes on a still painting, or simple musical notes come to life, but actual characters. He brings life, the human element, to the dance, in other words. And it’s kind of funny that everyone around him resists taking his cue. Stop resisting, people!

One Comment

  1. Hi Tonya! It was refreshing to read your honest review of Annonciation – I saw it about 10 years ago in college when with my Writing Dance Criticism seminar – in fact, it was the first piece that I wrote a dance criticism about! I guess Preljocaj was “trendy” back then too, although I’m not sure how long a choreographer is trendy when that was 10 years ago. Anyways, I absolutely loved it, but I do know what expectations can do to a performance, as can worrying about the enjoyment of a guest that you brought.

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