An Adieu to Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet

Rain Dogs: Jin Young Won
Photo Credit: film still

When I think of a lake, I imagine its stillness and peace. Calm looms over a clear surface without tides. No matter if the wind shouts or murmurs, the water barely stirs. It's settled, unperturbed. It craves nothing but silence.

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet is more like a river. It disturbs and shatters, splashing to disrupt tranquility. Its dancers run and leap; they dislike stagnancy.

People rarely talk about lakes. Rivers, on the other hand, benefit from a sex appeal that's the stuff of ballads. This is no coincidence.

At BAM's Howard Gilman Opera House, Cedar Lake makes waves with its farewell season this week. The dancers move with reckless abandon -- rushing, flowing, daring. As they share the stage for a final time, it's heartbreaking to accept that a troupe with such chemistry, vivacity, flavor, and joy is saying goodbye to its home and to one another.

My Generation: Ebony Williams
Photo Credit: Juliet Cervantes

Wednesday evening's bill opened with a premiere by Bessie winner Richard Siegal, but the performance began at the opera house door, where patrons swarmed like schools of fish lost in a stormy brook. Ushers directed traffic until everyone found their seats as the clock struck seven-thirty-five. For a moment, there was complete serenity; then, a burst of energy. Navarra Novy-Williams exploded into view, swaying with panache to French music that better suited a runway than BAM. The room went cold, even frigid. Nobody knew what to make of the action until Ebony Williams came onto the scene and all was right, and genius, and unparalleled in its novelty.

The latter Williams is the dance community's Beyoncé. As her legs managed a 180-degree line in a side tilt, she proved her technical prowess, but it was her unhindered attitude that made her especially unforgettable. Sassy, fresh, fierce -- she could be the poster child for je ne sais quoi.

My Generation: Matthew Rich
Photo Credit: Juliet Cervantes

The rest of Siegal's piece, My Generation, was like a Monster high that you never want to end. Siegal's vision coupled with his diverse cast embodied the 21st century with its technological obsession and fast-paced lifestyle. Dancers moved with synchronized intensity, mimicking the plugged-in robots we've become. Matthew Rich lip-synced like a rock star, crashing to the floor over and over like a track on repeat. The millennials were in the spotlight, their carpe diem mentality on display. The culmination? Chaotic, blinding bliss.

Next was Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue, Crystal Pite's work from 2008. Lights glimmered like at a stadium, when you're alone and pretend that all the world's watching. Cliff Martinez's score haunted bodies that intermingled in the dusk, falling, chasing, barely arriving. Lifting. Heaving. Sacrificing. You felt that if you joined them in their intimate space, you would somehow reach enlightenment, and that enlightenment would look something like love.

Ten Duets: Ida Saki, Jon Bond
Photo Credit: Sharen Bradford

Finally, Johan Inger's whimsical Rain Dogs made its NYC debut. A man crawled with a tape player, slurring through the lyrics of "We Are the Champions." A dog stood center stage, burning. Women switched clothing and gendered mannerisms with men, and Vânia Doutel Vaz claimed that the piano had been drinking. Ida Saki sat prone, waiting for her partner's approach. Muscles flexed along the floor, setting libidos ablaze. Inger's universe was enchanting, intoxicating. Desirable.

The show no doubt merited a standing ovation, and it got one. But Cedar Lake itself deserves some applause, too. Rarely can dance become more than movement, a stirring feeling in your gut. There are barriers. There's an invisible screen. There are steps leading to the stage, and an orchestra pit, and balconies, and it's all very grandiose and isolating and placid.

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet is more about making noise by tearing down the fourth wall. Its roar will be missed.