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New York City’s Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet Wowed ADF Audiences on July 5th and 6th at DPAC

ADF presented Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet on July 5th and 6th at the Durham Performing Arts Center (photo by Julieta Cervantes)

ADF presented Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet on July 5th and 6th at the Durham Performing Arts Center (photo by Julieta Cervantes)

I’ve heard good things about Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet in recent years, and I was looking forward to seeing them perform at the American Dance Festival. However, I wasn’t prepared for the exquisite dancing that I witnessed on July 6th at the Durham Performing Arts Center.

The performance opened with Violet Kid (2011) by Hofesh Shechter, who created both the choreography and the music. The program notes speak of “man’s struggle for harmony within a complex and sometimes horrifying universe,” and this is an apt description; but the piece is so much more than a handful of words can express.

The opening reveals the dancers, in street clothes and socks, standing in a straight line across the front of the stage, eerily lit by overhead spots. A roaring sound drops away to be replaced by a lone voice asking, “Do I talk too much?” More talking follows, the sort of inner dialogue that we have all had with ourselves — questioning, doubting, second-guessing. The dancers crouch and skitter across the stage, shoulders hunched, arms raised, fingers pointing up or playing invisible strings in the air above their heads. They sweep in circular motions across the floor, their movements liquid and seamless, as though they are moving under water. They do a hard-edged little skip while punching the air above/in front of them. Then they bounce — a hard bounce, as if trying to shake the demons loose, their percussive, trance-dance movements echoed and driven by Shechter’s percussive music.

Again and again, the dancers move from order to chaos and back to order — at one point standing in another straight line downstage with the right foot in a flat-footed passé and arms in first position, then performing impossibly fast sequences of chaotic, fit-like movements. Yet no matter how chaotic a sequence might appear, it was clear that even the craziest of movements was, underneath, precise and exact — every body part placed, every transition honed.

I’ve used the word “breathtaking” over the years to describe performances that have taken me by surprise and/or awed me, and I could go on for pages describing the endlessly entrancing images and the quality of movement in this piece. The Cedar Lake dancers didn’t take my breath away; instead, their movement was so perfectly, nakedly organic that I breathed with them, moved with them, felt my muscles contract and expand with theirs. They didn’t simply perform the choreography; they were the choreography.

Hofesh Shechter collaborated with Jim French on the shadowy, introspective, moody lighting for Violet Kid. He worked with Junghyun Georgia Lee to create the costumes.

Second on the program was Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue(2010). Choreographed by Crystal Pite, the hauntingly beautiful work was performed by five dancers in various pairings. The duets sometimes overlapped; at other times, one dancer would leave his or her partner behind to perform a solo section before being joined by the next partner. One of the strongest moments in the pieces was a solo performed by Acacia Schachte. She rolled, twisted, and flipped, her movements close to the floor, connected to it, yet not bound by it. The other memorable moment featured a woman (Ida Saki) crossing the stage in slow motion, her arm extended behind her, fingers outstretched. From behind her, a male dancer runs almost in place, as though on a treadmill moving away from the woman. He struggles to overcome the reverse momentum and catch up to her, and finally succeeds in grabbing her outstretched hand — only to lose his grip and lose ground. This repeats several times until he finally catches her hand and holds on. She turns to him. His legs fold, and he collapses to the floor.

A circle of spotlights on movable light poles provided the lighting for Ten Duets (designed by Jim French). Most of the poles remained stationery, the different light pools and shadows determined by which lights were activated, but occasionally the dancers repositioned the poles to light the stage from a particular angle. The effect was stunning. (My companion for the evening is a light designer, and he was blown away.) Junghyun Georgia Lee designed the simple pants and shirts in solid colors and fluid fabrics. Music was by Cliff Martinez, selections from the motion-picture soundtrack, Solaris.

Joseph Kudra, Jin Young Won, and Matthew Rich in "Ida ?" (photo by Julieta Cervantes)

Joseph Kudra, Jin Young Won, and Matthew Rich in “Ida ?” (photo by Julieta Cervantes)

The world premiere of Ida ? closed the program. With choreography, lights, and soundtrack by Emanuel Gat, Ida ? featured the same incredible dancing by the company, but the piece itself floundered. According to the program notes, the work “explores group behaviors and the navigation of individuals within them.” I suppose this could be seen; but overall, the piece suffered from a lack of focus or progression. For me, it was the dance equivalent of treading water — beautifully executed by amazing dancers, but treading water just the same. The music was a mix of soundtrack (including text read/spoken by the dancers) and Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 32, Op. 111, performed by Mitsuko Uchida.

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet is a special company of dancers. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group so in sync with one another and with the choreography. They are incredibly talented and exciting to watch, and I hope to see them again very soon.

SECOND OPINION: July 8th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Denise Cerniglia:; and July 6th Durham, NC Herald-Sun review by Susan Broili: (Note: You must subscribe to read this article).

CEDAR LAKE CONTEMPORARY BALLET (em>(American Dance Festival, July 5 and 6 in the Durham Performing Arts Center).



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Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet (New York, NY dance troupe): (official website), (Facebook page), (Twitter page),, and (Wikipedia).


Viki Atkinson danced professionally in musical theater for a number of years and later shifted her focus to choreographing for theater. Locally, she danced in the North Carolina Theatre productions of Cabaret, My Fair Lady, Man of La Mancha, Oklahoma!, and West Side Story. Additional performance credits include Kathy in Company, Peggy in Godspell, and the title role in Gypsy. Later, Atkinson lent her dance expertise to Spectator Magazine, serving as chief dance critic from 1987 to 1999. She also holds a degree in Dance Education from UNC-Greensboro; and she has taught extensively in a variety of settings, including Meredith College, Virginia Commonwealth University, Appomattox Regional Governor’s School (Petersburg, VA), and the School of Richmond Ballet. She was also on the faculty of the Raleigh School of Ballet for 10 years and directed the dance program at Martin Middle School for four years. Viki Atkinson recently returned to Raleigh after living in Richmond for six years, and is thrilled to be back in North Carolina! To read more of Viki Atkinson’s Triangle Review reviews, click here. To read more of her CVNC reviews, click here.

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