What is it about rhythmic precision — especially the intricate linking of rhythmic sound with rhythmic movement — that’s so enchanting it can make you laugh out loud?
Young Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman asks (and answers) that question in “Tuplet,” the most beguiling of three dance works presented by Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet in their Seattle debut this weekend.
Cedar Lake is a New York-based troupe with a marked European vein to its repertoire. Its program at Meany Theater features pieces by two European choreographers (Ekman and London-based Hofesh Schechter) and one Canadian choreographer with strong European ties (Crystal Pite).
While all three showcase the remarkable talents of this company, Ekman’s is the one with the biggest welcome sign on the door. It opens with a magical solo by Jon Bond in silhouette, in which a prerecorded voice-over describes his loopy progression of movements as he makes them. Bond is so exactly on the mark that he seems the limber, chuckle-inducing incarnation of physical wit.
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As the dance evolves, all types of rhythm are explored. In one sequence, six dancers move in cadence to their names being spoken aloud (Bond is knocked right off balance by his). Amith A. Chandrashaker’s lighting design and Mikael Karlsson’s sound are as rhythmic and complex as the dancers’ movement. Video components add another layer to the mix, including archival footage of jazz bands in action, suggesting where some of Ekman’s inspiration came from.
“Tuplet” is the bright central panel in this dance triptych, and it’s flanked on either side by pieces that are darker.
Schechter’s “Violet Kid,” the evening’s opener, unfolds in a smoke-hazed, polluted-looking light, as it restlessly configures and reconfigures 14 dancers. The dancers, often moving as one fluid creature, are ceaselessly in motion, oscillating between solo or small-group action and unison passages involving fierce head-snaps and tightly syncopated folk-dance flourishes. (Schechter is originally from Israel, and some steps have a distinctly Middle Eastern flavor.)
The program notes say the piece addresses “man’s struggle for harmony within a complex and sometimes horrifying universe,” and that seems about right. As vivid and specific as the piece’s movement is, it can seem a little random in its sequencing. Schechter also wrote the tense electronic score, and sometimes the music has a clearer dramatic shape than the dance.
Pite has wowed audiences at On the Boards with her own dance troupe, Kidd Pivot. So it’s fascinating to see how her movement imagination takes hold of other dancers. Cedar Lake’s performers throw themselves into it with a feverish yet controlled abandon.
“Grace Engine,” however, is the bleakest piece by Pite I’ve seen and, unlike the works seen at OtB, it has no overt narrative. Performed under cold fluorescent lighting, it features 14 dancers in corporate-style suits (no ties) who are clearly struggling to free themselves from something.
Owen Belton’s pulsing score, crafted from sampled railroad sounds, is either trapping them or urging them to rebel (they do hurl off their jackets, eventually). Key movements are repeated in altered contexts, hinting at both progress and stalemate.
As agile and committed as the dancers are to the work’s somber tone and complexity, they can’t quite push its angst into the realm of the transcendent. For purer dance pleasure, turn to “Tuplet.”
Michael Upchurch: email@example.com