Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet is a company whose movement idiom knows no bounds. The company’s by-the-book ballet pirouettes yield seamlessly into sensory, twitchy rolls of the neck, wrists and spine. And the dancers lurch thunderously toward the floor as convincingly as they delicately float above it.
As the New York-based troupe’s Saturday performance at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts showed, the possibilities are almost limitless for what a choreographer can do with dancers who possess that kind of broad range.
The program opened with “Simply Marvel,” a world premiere by Regina van Berkel set to a gorgeous Niccolo Paganini score. Both movement and music began in quiet melancholy but swelled into moments of pluckiness and joy. The dance contains some well-crafted partnering, with lift sequences that surely took great imagination to cook up and impeccable precision to execute.
But overall, this work lacked purpose. The relationships between dancers were ill-defined, and the connection of one section of choreography to another sometimes seemed tenuous.
The dearth of meaning in the first work was more than made up for in “Grace Engine,” a chilling piece choreographed by Crystal Pite. The dance begins under a thin veil of fog and the harsh glare of a light that mimics the eerie glow of a police interrogation room. To the sound of rushing footsteps and the rhythmic chugging and braking of a train, a male dancer launches abruptly into a spate of flailing falls and seething gestures that instantly suggest torment and stress. Soon, the rest of the cast enters stage, and they’re not just running: They’re running from something. As the dancers band together for military-esque marches and stretch their mouths wide like they’re screaming, what started as creeping tension builds to full-blown anxiety.
The dance is so specific that you can’t miss its meaning, yet it’s just open-ended enough to make you conjure your own worst nightmare.
The closing work, Alexander Ekman’s “Hubbub,” pokes fun at the sometimes self-serious world of contemporary dance. A fast-talking, melodramatic narrator gives the audience a play-by-play of what’s happening on stage. (Do not be fooled, he deadpans, by the dancers who look like they’re floating: It’s a lighting and props trick.) He also gives voice to what the audience might be wondering. After an uncomfortably long pause, he asks, “For how long will this silence work?”
The choreography is also a skewering of typical dance faux pas: It features over-the-top, exaggerated acting and dancers who have fallen out of step with the group and are blissfully unaware of it.
It’s a bit of a gimmicky work, but these dancers pull it off thanks to strong comedic timing and the ability to move in a way that’s strong, even when it’s silly.