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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Cedar Lake—Sexy, smart & cool

Rain Dogs. Photo: Ally Duffey
By Susan Reiter

It’s been a busy year between BAM engagements for Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, which returns to the Howard Gilman Opera House with two programs June 3—6. Following its inaugural BAM season, which marked this energetic, distinctively edgy troupe’s 10th anniversary, Cedar Lake introduced a new choreographic initiative, Cedar Lab, which culminated in performances of five new works created by company members.

The company toured to Germany last fall, and then debuted in Australia and New Zealand. In February, they presented a full-company installation, with live music, conceived/directed by Artistic Director Alexandra Damiani. This month they perform in Boston and then return to BAM, where the repertory includes world and New York premieres.

Particularly intriguing is My Generation, by Richard Siegal—an American based in Europe whose work has had few chances to be seen in New York in recent years. Cedar Lake’s mission has been to introduce New York audiences to dances by cutting-edge choreographers who often have busy careers in other parts of the world, but whose work is less known in these parts.

Siegal danced in New York during the 1990s, performing with Doug Elkins, Mark Dendy, and Janis Brenner while venturing into choreography himself. “I cut my teeth in New York. It’s where I fell in love with dance and dancers. They were halcyon years. New York is the community to which I first felt membership. It was exceptionally nurturing,” Siegal wrote recently by email from Germany. He moved to Europe in 1997 to join William Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt. After seven years, he moved on, “to concentrate on plowing my youth into my own field, as it were,” he wrote. 

My Generation, for 12 dancers, is the first commission by Damiani, who became the company’s second artistic director last year. She had seen a piece Siegal made in Munich with women on pointe, and was eager to have him bring that element into a work for Cedar Lake. “I thought it was very sexy and smart and cool,” Damiani said of the Munich dance. “I feel like it’s a challenge for the dancers, to bring more verticality into their work. We had been doing a lot on the floor.”

Indicative of Siegal’s far-flung career, he was working on a project in Madagascar when Damiani contacted him. But schedules aligned, and he came for an initial three weeks to collaborate with the Cedar Lake dancers, returning in late April to complete My Generation.

Ten Duets. Photo: Paula Lobo

Siegal wrote that even before working with the company, “I was well aware of Cedar Lake’s stellar reputation. The dancers I had met over the years from the company were all tremendous.” Once he arrived at their Chelsea studio, he found they were all very much in sync. “Their competencies, both stylistic and artistic, are like a gold mine to me. We share so much in common, I could not have picked them better myself.”

The title of Siegal’s dance is taken from the album of music to which it is set. “When I choreograph to pre-existing music, the dance is driven largely by that initial choice. After, in the studio, choreographing is an act of acute, collective listening. Fundamentally, the music must elicit in me a desire to move my body. After seeing video of the dancers, I chose music off an album called Pop HD by Uwe Schmidt, a.k.a. Atom™, because it had that effect on me and I felt it would for the dancers as well.”

“There was great energy in the studio,” Damiani said during a phone interview. “He’s soft-spoken, but very clear about what he wanted—and also open to what the dancers could bring to the table.” So thanks to Cedar Lake, New York will have a rare glimpse of Siegal’s work. The last time he was in town, performing the solo As if Stranger, he won a Bessie Award. “But since then I have developed a large body of work in Europe that has never been shared with my original community. It is a reality I regret,” he wrote.

The BAM programs also include the New York premiere of Rain Dogs, by Dutch choreographer Johan Inger. Restaged last year, it is a series of whimsical relationship portraits set to music by Tom Waits. The company will also perform Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue by associate choreographer Crystal Pite, Necessity, Again by Jo Strømgren, and Jiří Kylián’s Indigo Rose.

The BAM performances are scheduled to be the company’s final season, since it was announced in late March that Cedar Lake would be closing its operations. As these BAM programs vividly demonstrate, Cedar Lake has added an iconoclastic, exciting, and crucial voice to the New York dance scene that will be missed.

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet bids farewell with two different programs at BAM June 3—6.

Susan Reiter contributes articles on dance to TDF Stages, The Los Angeles Times, and other publications.
Reprinted from April 2015 BAMbill.

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