Intense does not even begin to describe what transpired Saturday night at the AT&T Performing Arts Center's Winspear Opera House. From the first moment that a man in body-fitting blue shirt and pants emerged on stage to move with taut, unhurried grace, it was clear that Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, presented by TITAS, was going to stretch the limits of ballet, and for the next two-and-a-half hours, it did.
Jirï Kylian's Indigo Rose embraced the elegance of ballet with its seamless turns and elongated limps, but then tossed in strange rubbery shoulder rolls, jerky butt thrusts and undulating hips. It the movement seemed a bit overblown at times, it had good company with the theatricality of the stage effects: a long vertical wire split the stage in two, running from the rear left to the near right. Eventually, from that taunt wire a long, billowy white silk unfurls along its length like the waves of the ocean, the better for dancers to race back and forth along its side, or to perform behind it so that their images are cast in huge shadows.
The program notes explain that the work embodies an "unattainable ideal" and perhaps that explains the contrast between beautiful partnering with bodies stretched and controlled, and then ungainly bumps and jerks. How that fit into the gimmick of a video that threw in images of a bare-breasted woman and of heads manipulated in grotesque gestures is anyone's guess.
Space was used to a very different effect in Crystal Pite's Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue. Two dim lights illuminate a patch of the stage, but as the ballet progresses, more lights come on. Eventually, we see not just the lights but their metal stands, fanned out to cover two-thirds of the stage. The effect is that of a cage to enclose the dancers, except that sometimes they all but disappear from the metal stands. Mostly, the light stays dim, making what seems like struggle a bit murky.
Rescue opens with two men squaring off in a boxing match, followed by a couple embarking in ever-shifting, complicated entanglements. Later, a man runs frantically—and comically—in place trying to reach a slow-moving, indifferent woman. At some point, the light is hardly more than a fog, making the dancers barely visible and therefore all the more mysterious.
If Indigo Rose seemed a bit pretentious and remote and Rescue poetic, the company's new work Violet Kid took off in another direction. It was loud (very loud), rancorous and chaotic, with occasional moments of utter calm. Choreographer and composer Hofesh Shechter pretty much ditched anything like ballet for something earthy and grounded, and sometimes explosive. Violet Kid opens with a tremendous clatter, the sound as loud as a plane on take-off, but the noise recedes as 15 dancers fan out on stage, standing still. A man's voice says, "Do I talk too much?—Maybe that's why I don't have any friends…" and then goes on to talk about the state of the world. Soon the dancers are careening about, bent over, heads down, hitting the floor with vehement force. The music switches from industrial noise to the eerie, mournful sounds of a cello and double bass.
Again and again, frenzy gives way to calm, a statement of sorts about what youth faces today in a world where nothing is certain. It was a powerful piece, for everything about it rang true.
◊ Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.