Below, Karin Fenn and Scotty Hardwig offer us their impressions of two out-of-town companies Salt Lake has played host to in recent weeks. First, read about Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. Below, having taken place a few days earlier, is Gallim. If you are interested in sharing your perspective on these or future dance events in Utah, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to write about Dance Theatre of Harlem, who perform this Thursday, March 6th at Kingsbury Hall.
“Eloquence, Exertion, and Nuance… An Evening with Cedar Lake” by Karin Fenn
Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, led by Interim Artistic Director Alexandra Damiani, returned to Utah for a residency that culminated with a performance at the Eccles Center, in Park City this Saturday. During their last visit in 2008, they enthralled audiences at a presentation in the downtown main library, followed by a stunning concert at Kingsbury Hall. While I found that the choreography of their most recent performance lacked the clarity and insight of their prior visit, the ensemble of fourteen dancers succeeded in inspiring the audience anew with their powerful performances.
As their name suggests, the company has a stylistic foundation in ballet, yet moves with equal ease into new vocabulary that references many dance styles, and at times a grotesque physicality. It is refreshing to see a continuing trend of diverse ethnicities and body types embraced by this company. The international cast possesses seemingly unending endurance, athleticism, grace, elegant line, and wit. When the choreography overextended itself or failed to reach its point, I was still inspired by the dancers’ exuberant, yet nuanced performances. Highlights of the evening were veterans Jon Bond, Nikemil Concepcion, Ebony Williams, Matthew Rich, and newcomers Joaquim de Santana, and Jin Young Won.
The first piece, and most challenging, “Violet Kid”, was both choreographed and scored by Hofesh Schechter. Schechter, formerly a member of Batsheva Dance Company, continued his career in Europe. Running 33 minutes, the piece took the audience on a murky journey into a dysfunctional, and at times, animalistic “examination of man’s struggle for harmony within a complex and sometimes horrifying universe” (Schechter in program notes). Using blackouts, and a confrontational line up of dancers, the movement became a ritualistic, physical assault that suggested gangs, protests, repression, inner city chaos, solitary confinement, and torment. Groups dissolved into isolated individuals as dancers searched for a thread of connection. While there were many striking images of conflict, defiant gestures of balance, and never-ending exertion, the piece failed to weave the images together to make a clear point. I found myself straining to connect with the countless choreographic shifts after staring at the dimly lit, smoke-filled stage . While the movement vocabulary and use of space were innovative, the piece became redundant after fifteen minutes. Ultimately, my focus shifted from the choreography to the dancers’ well being. I was exhausted as they continued to dance at an extreme level of exertion for no clear purpose.
“Tuplet” by Swedish choreographer Alexander Eckman explored rhythm through a crisp integration of movement, score, and light. The lighting design and videography punctuated virtuosic performances that referenced hip hop, krumping and jazz, while maintaining unique phrasing and style. Whether in silhouette, or brightly illuminated on their own squares of white, the dancers came alive with dynamic phrasing and physical wit. Throughout the piece, abstract vocalizations engendered motion. The highlight was a duet that beautifully reflected Eckman’s eloquent narration, which defined every aspect of our lives as rhythm. My only critique of the piece would be the incorporation of the video of musicians throughout time. This seemed an extraneous use of technology as both the text and choreography had succinctly stimulated our rhythmic palate.
The final piece, “Necessity, Again”, by Norwegian choreographer Jø Stromgren, was a humorous exploration of human relationship and sexuality. Set in the fifties, with a score by French singer Charles Aznavour, Stromgren seamlessly wove elegant vocabulary and characterization. He used the traditional choreographic device of choral movement to frame duets and trios. A table and chair surrounded by paper hung on clothes lines and strewn about the stage, creating an unusual landscape. Throughout the piece, dancers alternately read, collected, tossed and wore the paper. The whimsical choreography suggested a tightly run office run amok, as the performers came out of their shells. First, they discovered the other sex. Matthew Rich ceaselessly acted upon his urges through a hilarious pelvic fixation. Then, a passive aggressive fight for female supremacy ensued. Nikemil Concepcion worshiped feminine sexuality and purity in a stunning quintet which incorporated the table as the fifth dancer. Finally, the stage erupted in a frenzy of childish play as every one succumbed to passionate abandon. While the piece could have benefited from editing and a clearer link between the paper and the choreographic intent, overall, “Necessity, Again” was a positive culmination to an evening of dance artistry.
Choreographer and performer Karin Fenn, formerly of Ririe-Woodbury and RawMoves, has been the dance specialist at Salt Lake Arts Academy since 2009.
“Formalist Harmony: Gallim’s “Blush” at the Marriott Center for Dance” by Scotty Hardwig
A hazy light welcomed audiences to a bare stage outlined as a box with tape on the floor, creating a space that seemed almost like a black box theatre, despite its elevated proscenium and an atmosphere of dim mystery that continued for the length of “Blush”. The evening of balleto-punk ferocity began with a lone male soloist, scantily clad, with what looked like white body paint covering his semi-nude form. He crawled through the space with twitchy animal athleticism, and a movement vocabulary definitively informed by Miller’s own history with Batsheva’s Ohad Naharin. This costuming, similar for all the dancers, seemed reminiscent of Butoh, if not for the decidedly muscle-bound, uniformly thin bodies of the performers. As the company members filtered in, three men and three women, with low knee-twisting turns and grounded floor rolls, there was a sense of carefully placed architecture within the hesitant, intent downlooking and powerful wide-legged lunges that made up a large portion of the evening’s choreographic momentum.
Towing the lines between precision to wild abandon, Miller’s fondness for unison created a formalist undertone to this work, with spatial patterning that played upon Gallim’s own brand of rigid musicality. From this place of hefty compositional athleticism, the work began building to frenzy. But it was easy to see the heavy influence of contemporary ballet, the European kind, with its asymmetric lines and creature-like battements that served to cut the flow of Gaga-inspired expressionism.
And there was a kind of feral pantomime, as dancers reached out into space, as if yearning for something, only to crash back into themselves, or more likely, to the floor in contorted agony. There was quite a bit of drama in this performance, from clipped sassy struts to longing gazes, but also an element of humanness just beneath the surface. At times, the dancers would shout on-stage, “Go” or “Now”–– intermittent moments of reality that seemed to shatter the frail illusion of “pure dance” that Miller seemed to cling to throughout the work.
Just as the silhouetted forms sprinted throughout the stage nearing chaos, blinding lights shone (into the audience’s eyes, quite glaringly) from the upstage floor. When Kap Bambino’s techno-punk sound score was droning towards a sense of frenetic collapse, the lights and music cut out and the piece returned to a slow, balletic adagio in near-total darkness. This seemed to be Miller’s rhythm: build and clear, high-intensity movement into slow unison adagio. This predictability of structure was somewhat undercut by the raw physicality of the dancers, with voluminous leaps aplenty and bodies passed around mid-air, limbs akimbo in corpse-like passivity. Towards the midpoint of the evening, I could tell the performers were tiring in Miller’s fearless non-stop movement phrases, which at times seem more like paragraphs, chanting to a throbbing beat, but never reaching a level of wildness that would threaten to break the fragile perfection of the carefully crafted choreographic structure. I almost craved to see those dancers truly tire, if only to watch the work lose the carefully crafted chaos of its formalist harmony.
Duets were prized in this work, but from a gendered world of men lifting daintily splayed women in a manner that might even be called sexual, if only in a Greco-Roman, S&M kind of way. One section of the work broke this mold, a male-male duet sensitively performed by Dan Walczak and Austin Tyson, which almost seemed to come from another world. Tiny pools of light broke the space into sections, with copious open-limbed floorwork, their bodies flying through space, collisions, tentative touches, and many near-misses. It was it’s own piece, beautiful in its own right, yet seemingly inserted only to say “look, we can do gender-queer too.”
Blush’s joyous epilogue began with a locked and jolting solo by the indelible Emily Terndrup (an alum of the University of Utah’s own Modern Dance Program), complete with eerie facial expressions and contorted limbs. As the decidedly pop encore continued, set to Wolf Parade’s “I’ll Believe in Anything,” the company re-emerged with smiles and loosely thrown phrase material, a final jubilant call in contrast to an entirely dark world. The lights brightened to finally reveal the unshaded human bodies before us, albeit in carefully crafted unison and differentiation, as if to regain some semblance of humanity within the twisted nature of this piece as a whole. The performers ultimately came together and intently ripped up the boxed tape on the floor, perhaps symbolizing their freedom from the pain of lost intimacy.
This somewhat simplistic ending mirrored the conceptual arc of the piece itself, a rambling work that from most angles seemed to be a treatise on the many trials of love and loss, to be placed on the shelf under the clichéd category: “failure of human relationships” art. But conceptual shortcomings aside, the powerful presence and raw physicality from Gallim’s incredible performers created many a blush of excitement at the Marriott Center for Dance, prompting many audience members to standing ovation at the work’s surging close.
Scotty Hardwig is a dancer, performer, teacher, and digital media artist originally from Southwest Virginia. He is in his third year of the MFA program at the University of Utah’s Department of Modern Dance. His colleagues will perform more of Andrea Miller’s work at the University of Utah Performing Dance Company spring show, which runs through March 8th.