Setting new choreography to one of Igor Stravinsky’s two epic ballet scores, Sacre du Printemps or ? Les Noces, is becoming almost as popular as painting your walls in House Beautiful‘s colors of the year. Stijn Celis’s ?Rite (created for the Bern Ballet in 2005) abjures the key element of virgin sacrifice to create a perversely chic study in primitivism. He might almost be making an anthropological survey: “Let’s watch these people for a while and see what they do.”
Designer Catherine Voeffray has dressed nine of Cedar Lake’s 16 magnificent performers in short, stiff, boldly patterned strapless dresses (cut slightly differently for the men). When the dancers sit on bright green modular benches, they look like flowers in a painted garden. They move, however, like jungle beasts. Acacia Schachte begins and ends the work kneeling on a bench, a skinny cat convulsively retching. The first man to appear (Oscar Ramos) lopes through like a monkey.
Celis’s choreography, often compelling in its strangeness, hits Stravinsky’s rhythms but ignores their unified drive toward climax. At some shuddering notes, for instance, Ramos quavers his bent knees. Ferocious chords throw the dancers into gut-busting dancing; light notes make them tiptoe. The four men watch the five women warily, but never touch them; all are intent on discovering their world, their own bodies, and what these tremendous sounds make them feel like doing.
Cedar Lake’s artistic director, Benoit-Swan Pouffer, favors pieces that challenge the stupendous dancers to be fierce, athletic, and compulsively sensual. Celis shares the program with two choreographers who’ve worked extensively with William Forsythe. Jacopo Godani is one who uses Forsythe’s ideas about the body’s capabilities as a lingua franca. In Symptoms of Development (new to Cedar Lake in 2007), dark symbolism (knives figure fleetingly), arresting images, and voices submerged in cataclysmic music swirl around the swarming, virtuosically restless dancers. They distort and ripple their bodies and limbs so extravagantly that you fear for their sanity.
Vancouver-based Crystal Pite’s Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue is less frantic. She shows you the performers’ intentions (Jessica Coleman Scott and Jason Kittelberger, braced against each other, shoving futilely, or Coleman Scott yanking Jessica Lee Keller around like a doll she’s mad at). Outside the semicircle of lights on stands, there are always others watching. In an evening surfeited with movement, the most resonant duet is the simplest. Coleman Scott walks across the stage in slow, pressured lunges, while Jon Bond runs after her, covering almost no ground, straining to reach her; in the end she strolls away, briefly holding his hand while he inches along, seated and abject.