REVIEW: Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet Intensive Students Perform 360º Installation
Last night, students of the Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet summer 2011 Intensive Program, performed in an interactive installation piece entitled 360º at Cedar Lake’s homebase in NYC. Drew Jacoby and I joined the audience, circling the action rather than in rows of neat seats. In the current performance trend of audience free-flow, the installation directed viewers to and from five different stage spaces, making the experience somewhat of a choose-your-own-adventure, as dancing occured simultaneously in opposite directions. Because this is still a performance, and we have all been trained how to react, we do not “move freely” as the marketing for the show suggests, but we do pick our own angle on the scene presented, and we wait to be directed to move. In the first room of the installation, we find white fabric hung from the ceiling, dancers wrapped up inside, twisting, swinging, and hanging. The space was lit by a futuristic video projection on one wall, its echoes on the dancers faces below it. Four white boxes marked the corners of the “stage” where dancers stood and watched each other, moving every so often to arrange a set of numbers scattered on the ground. Immediately, I am captured by the dancer directly in front of me, who catches my gaze and in slow motion, delicately picks up a set of numbers and places them on her box. Her hair is braided in corn rows and she is adorned with a sheer costume with one streak of bright neon pink. When she and her companions finish their section, they simply walk out of the space, which we take as our cue to follow. Just like at the 42nd Street subway station, we slowly corral ourselves into a corridor with the rest of the watchers.
The implied theme of math and measurement is embellished when we are led into the next room, where stages are decorated with measurements in bright neon marking tape. One bright white-blonde soloist dances alone in the center, measuring her side, arm and thigh with careful precision. She is then joined suddenly by the whole cast in a unison gesture section where movement motifs nod to counting, adjusting and calculating. The dancers move fluidly from stage to stage in duets, solos and large group sections. We are inches from their space. It is easy to catch their eyes so close up, and most do not shy away. I re-meet my girl from room one and under new light she loses none of her focus. When I stare her down, she gives it right back. A handful of these dancers have a genuine light behind their eyes, while some are harder to engage with. But it is clear they have been given the confidence to do a truly professional job. The energy continues to rise and culminates in a final section where the real CLCB company members join the students in an almost battle-like cross-room conversation.
The cutting-edge tone of the evening, incorporating multi-media video projection, aerial work, sculpture, and live musical score shows that CLCB is committed to showing their students the real deal of the current dance world. It re-imagines the audience relationship, and frames the dancing in a world of other visual design elements. The installation is a smart move, because it allows them to showcase a large group of new talent in a way where individuals don’t get lost in proscenium but rather are up-close and personal with their audience, no matter where they are placed on stage. All the students must be at their best. Benoit Swan-Pouffer’s work is not dumbed down for them in the slightest. He drives them to high quality even in the three weeks the group has to work.
Victor, a dance student originally from France now studying in New York City told me: “These three weeks, it was like we were in the company…like we were real artists.” Victor was surprised at how much input they had in the work as students: “Benoit created so much on us and with us.” Victor’s gratitude for his time with the program was apparent as he talks about departing from the “family” after the performance concludes. Where repertory can often be set on students to be repeated identically, CLCB intensive participants felt integrated into the creative process. The cohesiveness of the group showed in performance, not excluding contracted members of the company. This spirit of camaraderie makes sense–often intensives are allow dance companies to scout out new talent and bring on apprentices and new company members from the students they meet. Such programs are the perfect opportunity for pre-professional dancers to network while improving their technique. Because there is a highly selective audition to even enter the program, they come ready to bring their A-game. We wouldn’t be surprised to see some of these intensive performers back in future seasons, if not with CLCB, with another member of this close knit dance community that had this chance to see them shine.
After the performance, I collected these immediate reactions from fellow audience members:
It’s the first time I have seen the company. I really liked the interaction with the audience, the use of space, and how you could choose your own experience.
There is something everywhere you look! It was awesome.
I was pleasantly surprised. I thought because they were students they may not be as talented as they were. I was impressed.
This is hard movement, set on Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet company members. It was interesting to see the students doing the work, because I have seen it before. It was a wonderful experience.